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Probably Magic
Oct 9, 2012

More of a "Media Criticism Thread" CSPAM edition but not as a response to anything in any other forums, just a cool place to chill, maybe effortpost about hot and cold media, the effects all that poo poo has on the discourse and politics and the like, etc. I'm curious what media does to people's minds because I'm pissed I can't finish a 200 page book in any decent amount of time and maybe that's just because I'm a dumbass, maybe it's because of ~evil technology~ or maybe capitalism specifically rewards low engagement media as a way to make us think about things less deeply, turn higher engagement media (like the written word) solely into the domain of the elite who they then stock with their own interlocutors. Much to think about. Lib and Let Die, get the gently caress in here.


Jan 5, 2020

Lib and let die
Aug 26, 2004

There's a lot of products that you can buy with money but my posts are the only limited product, that only you can have.

Well hey, thanks for the intro Probably Magic!

I'm not a fancy college professor with a bookshelf full of high-level academic works that I display on my Zoom calls or anything, so I'd beg any forgiveness of my rough style in advance. I can get a bit long-winded, rambling, and off topic, and could definitely use an editor, but these thoughts are a working model that I've cobbled together over my various dives into media awareness through personal study of the works of academics such as Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, Chomsky, Hedges and...way too many more to try and list off.

Most of academia is focused on the communication model commonly referred to as the "Shannon-Weaver" model, a frame of reference that I find largely worthless because it is often medium agnostic - that is to say, it doesn't account for the nature of the medium and how it shapes or changes a message - it only accounts for "noise" that's intentionally injected into a message to somehow distort or change the end perception of the message. While this can certainly be applied in some scenarios, it doesn't cover a broad enough spectrum to really be applicable to modern communications channels. The Shannon-Weaver model, while marginally useful in ascertaining why a certain party might be interested in you seeing a specific message, it neglects the role of the communication medium in shaping that message.

One specific weakness of the Shannon-Weaver model is that you can flip it on its head and use it to show how the corporate media will often introduce its own noise to distort a message before it gets to you, even if that message is being transmitted through a medium directly to you - consider whether a new Twitter user is more likely to be recommended to follow CNN or MSNBC for politics vs. an independent journo on substack - are they more likely to be recommended Glenn's direct tweets, or Human Oatmeal Chuck Todd's personal spin on what he thinks you should think Glenn is actually saying:

I use Greenwald and Cillizza as an example here not because of either of their specific sets of beliefs, but as a stand-in for the power structures: put any independent media figure, be it Glenn or Cenk there, and substitute Cillizza for anyone from Katzenberg to Zucker, and it holds true: corporate media is desperate to introduce as much noise as possible to obfuscate independent media speaking truth to power. The avenues with which they'll deploy noise generally vary based on the audience - in the case of someone like Greenwald that they can't just buy off and fold into the Corporate Network as with TYT/Katzenberg, we see actions taken that line up with Chomsky's Propaganda Model - specifically the 3rd, 4th, and 5th filters (Official Sources, Flak, and Marginalizing Dissent). "Glenn takes Thiel money," "Glenn wants to hug and kiss nazis," "Glenn is a dangerous pedophile who married his victim," "he goes on Tucker," all sorts of noise ranging from benign guilt-by-association to really disgusting stuff calling back to harmful tropes about gay men.

McLuhan saw the Shannon-Weaver model as being tied to a necessary notion of efficient causality that was largely undone when the definition of efficient causality it is based upon was revealed to have been due to an early print-era mistranslation of Aristotle's idea of efficient causality - the rest of the Credentialed Academic World seems to still be trailing behind him on this necessary correction to their thought processes.

Instead, we will focus on McLuhan's "Tetrad" model which has no such chronological constraints, in where any given medium is analyzed against 4 adjacent "laws" of media framed as questions.

  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?
  • The laws of the tetrad exist simultaneously, not successively or chronologically, and allow the questioner to explore the "grammar and syntax" of the "language" of media. McLuhan departs from his mentor Harold Innis in suggesting that a medium "overheats," or reverses into an opposing form, when taken to its extreme.

But what is "the message", in the meta sense? Wikipedia has a succinct summary of what The Message is in McLuhan's model:


McLuhan uses the term 'message' to signify content and character. The content of the medium is a message that can be easily grasped and the character of the medium is another message which can be easily overlooked. McLuhan says "Indeed, it is only too typical that the 'content' of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium". For McLuhan, it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled "the scale and form of human association and action"

McLuhan would later revisit this theory, and publish a more detailed analysis under the title The Medium is the Massage - look again, that’s not a typo. Some maintain that it was due to a typographical error on a preview run edition that lead to “Massage” rather than “Message,” though McLuhan has the following to say:


The title "The Medium Is the Massage" is a teaser—a way of getting attention. There's a wonderful sign hanging in a Toronto junkyard which reads, 'Help Beautify Junkyards. Throw Something Lovely Away Today.' This is a very effective way of getting people to notice a lot of things. And so the title is intended to draw attention to the fact that a medium is not something neutral—it does something to people. It takes hold of them. It rubs them off, it massages them and bumps them around, chiropractically, as it were, and the general roughing up that any new society gets from a medium, especially a new medium, is what is intended in that title".

So, what does this mean? Simply put - the way in which a message is communicated is an intrinsic trait to that message, and can - and does - have a profound impact on what that message ends up being. We can see this in action in your local evening news broadcast.

From Sinclair-owned local networks to the observable shift of what is considered left wing thought towards the right, it’s no well-maintained secret that the local news is nothing more than a fertile bed in which to plant the seeds of right-wing reactionism: a hyperfocus on violent crime and social unrest, interspersed with some ‘human interest’ pieces, finally leading up to the big show - sports and weather - the same two interest pieces are also teased throughout the whole of the broadcast. I live just outside Miami - here, Sports and Weather are king. Before you go to bed, you need to know what’s going on in the tropics and you need to know what’s going on with the ‘phins. Decades and decades of studies and statistics show that these are the most-watched segments of a standard news broadcast. Even though we all know that Sports and Weather is at the end of the broadcast, the presenters continue to tease that it’s “the weather info you need to know this hurricane season, coming up tonight at 6:30!” - which is, in perfect synchronization of the pattern, at the very end of the 6:30 block - some time after the promo Inside Hollywood or Access Hollywood or Extra! And the “random person on the news staff teaches you a recipe they googled” segment.

Given this model of news distribution, I think it leaves us with a lot of “why” questions that have uncomfortable answers. We know why sports and weather are so important - sports people love sports, and a large swathe of America relies on their local weather team for potentially life-saving weather updates. The uncomfortable part with this is when we acknowledge the (relative, at least in regards to the sports part of this) importance of these parts of the broadcast and then find ourselves questioning their placing at the end of the broadcast stream. Why?

Let’s take this out of the political sphere - imagine an acquaintance rushes up to you on the street, shouting your name and insisting they have urgent, potentially life-saving news that you need to hear, and then starts talking about...pop culture. Then they remind you that they have urgent news, that’s going to impact how you plan your day tomorrow, and...proceed to talk about the features of the new iPhone N and encourage you to buy one. Then they tell you about a funny thing that happened to their aunt one day when they were driving home from work. last Thursday when she was driving home. She had a couple of miles to go - she looked up and saw a glowing orange object in the sky, to the east! It was moving very irregularly... suddenly there was intense light all around her - and when she came to, she was home. What do you think happened to her? And - of course, a reminder that they’ve got urgent, direly urgent news that’s going to impact your safety over the next couple of days - and then proceeds to tell you all about how much better they sleep on their Purple mattress.

You’d be forgiven, at this point, if you doubted the validity of the urgency of the information your friend keeps teasing. “If it’s so important,” you might ask, “why didn’t they lead with it? What’s with Harry Potter and iPhones and mattresses with milk maidens advertising for them?” What’s not being communicated here is intent. Your friend has been contracted by a marketing company representing some company, and the value of the advertising campaign is, in some measure, tied to how large of a captive audience one can offer, and how long an attention span that audience has. The local news, by extension of this scenario, has now dragged you through a mostly fluff, 2.25hr broadcast packed with advertising, because all you really want to see is the 15 minutes of sports and weather at the end so you can go to bed. Your hypothetical friend, and your local news station, are effectively holding the information you need hostage, while continuing to tease your continued attention to items that don’t interest you, because you might miss something important about Tropical Storm Hugo.

Again, you wouldn’t be faulted if at this point, you began to wonder “what is the point of this broadcast structure?” If you’ve lived in more than one region in the US, you’ve probably already noticed that this broadcast format is nearly universal to every local news station. Call it a bold statement if you will, but the argument that “local news exists to create value for the owners of media conglomerates through advertising to a captive audience under the guise of being informational content,” seems a fair logical conclusion to make.

I'll probably pontificate more tomorrow. I'm pretty beat, but I wanted to get something worth reading out based on some of the notes I've been keeping over the years.

Lib and let die has issued a correction as of 00:51 on Dec 1, 2021

Lib and let die
Aug 26, 2004

There's a lot of products that you can buy with money but my posts are the only limited product, that only you can have.

In researching some material for the thread, I came across a series of interviews and lectures with Marshall McLuhan's sons, Eric and Andrew. I'm still working my way through some of them, but one line I thought was particularly amusing was from an interview with Eric. Eric is speaking with Professor Nick Bongiorno, and the following interaction takes place:

"We're also doing this via videoconferncing, which kind of ties into the Global Village aspect of it. What do you think your father would think about this?"

Eric responds, and thanks to the media channel of a recorded audiovisual interview, we can see Eric actually nearly choke on his drink, have his face reveal his answer, and after asking for clarification simply state, "he'd think we made a pretty good mess of it. That is, we have no more control over these forms and these forces now, than we did a generation or two or three or five or fifty ago. The only difference between us and our forebears is that a few of us have some idea what's going on and the rest of us are just as blind and stupid to the whole business as ever."

Probably Magic
Oct 9, 2012

I am not much of a media expert and have never dived heavily into McLuhan, just covered him briefly in journalism class, but what I do know is creative writing (somewhat) and part of why I made this thread was to talk about how concrete media adapts our cognition. If I cross over a bit too much into the "message" part, forgive me, but it's always been an interest since I read Understanding Comics as a kid and it really went into the vocabulary of a generally marginalized medium in sequential art. Basically, each medium has its own vocabulary but also its own way of interacting with people's brains. In politics, this is perhaps most famously evinced with the first televised debate between JFK and Nixon where people who only saw it on the radio claimed Nixon won while people who watched television claimed JFK won. Now sure, Nixon had a cold and looked like poo poo, but that's the thing, despite the message being the same, the platform and use of that platform affected the efficiency of the message.

This is part of why AOC's whole "the medium is the message" thing is really funny, because she fails to use the vocabulary of her visual medium very well. If you ignore the explicit message and focus instead on the presentation, you have the bloody red of hastily drawn message on the traditionally pure background of white. This insinuates something violent and indeed invasive on a fairly traditional gala dress. The message itself? A fairly mundane and nonviolent "tax the rich." The audience, the gala people, see only something that is at best attention-getting and at worst threatening, but not in anyway provocative towards the content of the actual text. This is a common thing in poorly organized activism, that it operates on advertiser logic, that any attention no matter how negative is good attention. But that fails to use the medium effectively. No confrontational, more proletarian fashion is really evoked, so a lot of vocabulary is left on the floor, and then the artistic choices fail to be persuasive to anyone at the gala. If the message is, "Look at me, I'm AOC," mission accomplished. If the message is tax the rich, well... you probably want something more specific and nuanced anyway.

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