Friday, October 29, 2010

The Media is the Message

Marshall McLuhan wrote, "The media is the message".

For those of you who had the good foresight not to invest in a Communication degree (which is basically a Philosophy/English double-minor except without the jobs), let me explain this quote.

When you come home from a busy work day and sit down in front of The Amazing Race, you would think that the TV is sending you the following message: "Shawna Jenlinson and Rebbecca McSharanson are co-workers at an antique invisible-fence depot. They are excited to win the Amazing Race to prove to their moms that they can overcome a patriarchal society and succeed in a male-dominated world." This--among other things--SEEMS to be the message.

Turns out though, the ACTUAL message you are--or, at least your brain is--getting: "You are relaxing after work." ...By turning off your neurons, running purely on autonomic functions and getting filled in on the dramas of people who aren't you.

I have to admit... I often can't get to sleep unless I have flickering images and droning monologue somewhere in the room. I can't sleep in total silence or darkness anymore, because when the senses become deprived (to quote Doug Stanhope) "that's when the circus begins". But endless cathode-rays from the tube washing over my myelin sheath is one of the only things that can settle my brain down and keep me from processing all my pasts and futures, all the worlds' conundra, all the most wonderful and terrible algorithms which separate that which is from that which isn't.

This is the sad fusion of manic-depression and severe ADHD during an era where Sesame Street and MTV have primed the attention span for colorful 49-second dance numbers. Invisible digital signals are being shot-gunned through my cortex with poker raises, late grad-school paper attachments, adult videos, hate-speech and Indian recipes. When the TV goes off, that's when everything merges with nothing, and death dances with sex to the delicate whistle of boiling gold.
Why are kids' films becoming the best movies anymore? It used to be, every generation canonized the culture of its youth, but something interesting is happening. A lot of the films being made for kids today are amongst the best and most important films of our era. Up, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Toy Story 3... These films are not just precious to kids of today. They're important films to adults, critics, children of tomorrow--and their kids. They reflect what's important about the human spirit, and they teach us how to maintain a child-like sense of wonder even when we lose our innocence. This is what differs from the Disney movies of the early nineties--those lions and mermaids were simply doing the classic "good vs evil" dance, and traditional values (perseverance, love, courtesy) were being packaged for kids. But Pixar (in particular) has been making kids movies which the tots won't even realize the density of until they're old enough to hate life. The medium is telling us that childhood is the emotional conduit to ourselves, and you don't have to watch Up too many times to realize that the only way to stay off depression is to never grow up (in one form or another).

Our hearts and our brains have different maturity-archs. The "Wonder Years" taught us this particular lesson. Why do you think there is a glorious mystique about marrying your 'highschool sweetheart'? Why do you think there's a cliche called, 'the girl next-door'? Because as soon as we're old enough to pop boners, the nearest girl it's aimed at literally lives on your block. Since she's your primary crush, she becomes your baseline and the exaggeration that youth places on things resonates with us throughout our lives. As we get older, our worlds get bigger, and each idividual thing shrinks by comparison on the expanded canvas. But I digress...

So exactly what is the Media trying to tell us when it says, "I'm here to rock you to sleep and connect you to your inner child... I'm here to help you with your homework, banking, student loans and assist you with all matters of adult-hood. I'm here to teach you how to socialize from the relative safety of your living-room. I'm here to give you your thrills and entertainment. I can introduce you to a million 'girls next door' and also take their clothes off. I can help you remember the 90's. I can keep you in the loop with your friends and family who move to other continents. I can teach you about any topic whether it be the Council of Trent or what time is the new Jackass film showing? I can show you what it looks like to diffuse bombs in Afghanistan. I can turn you into someone who is everywhere, who knows everything, who sees all; I can help you conquer your fear of death by turning you into a digital, living God."

I don't know exactly what the Media is trying to tell us by all this, but I suspect it's something like, "Please never stop investing money, time, personal interest, and cultural significance into me until I've replaced the economy, made personal relationships obsolete and blended every concept--as high as God, Love, and Life with everything as low as dead-baby jokes and videos of crotch-kicking--into an opaque, universal, everything-paste; so that the only thing more important than all things is Me".

1 comment:

Gorilla Bananas said...

You could be right. Another possibility is that the Media is telling you to take a sleeping pill.