More on Media

Over the holidays I found myself reading Charles P. Pierce’s “Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free” and found a number of points of resonance with Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, though in somewhat more colourful language:

“’Television is an emotional medium,’ Cline explains. ‘It doesn’t do reason well. This is entertainment, not analysis or reasoned discourse. Never employ a tightly reasoned argument where a flaming sound bite will do. The argument of the academic is sort of dull, but a good pissing match is fun to watch.'”

“But his views on the subject are better known than those of someone doing the actual research, who, alas, likely is not as gifted a broadcaster as he is.”

“Everything is entertainment now”

“The potent narcotic of reassuring simplicity.”

This gets me thinking about cultural shifts. The transition of culture from modernity to postmodernity broughts us many intellectual critiques of intellectualism, highlighting the limits of logic and the need for cognitive humility. Over time however I think popular culture has pendulum swung into anti-intellectualism and arrogant emotionalism, a kind of romanticism on steroids. Holism still proves elusive.

4 Comments

  1. Steve, I’m not entirely sure as I’m still processing it all. However, I am pondering the overlap between this critique of visual media and what I’ve written more specifically on Christian art. You may recall I’ve voiced a distinct preference for contextual scenes (where the link between image and word, symbol and story is strongest) over decontextualized portraits (where the link between image and word, symbol and story is weakest), particularly in a worship or witnessing context. Considering the place of emotion and visual media in relation to the the postmodern shift, I’d say there is nothing wrong with emotion, but I do have a problem with emotionalism; there is nothing wrong with intellectual humility, but I do have a problem with anti-intellectualism. We seem to be facing a pendulum swing from rationality to romanticism. But what I think would be more heathy is heart and mind integration … and therefore visual – textual integration. If visual media is not as message neutral as it appears at first glance then we need carefully consider integration issues as we engage with it. So, as much as I love visual media, I think the concurrent decline in reading should concern us. With integration in mind I wonder, WHAT FORMS OF VISUAL MEDIA MOST ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT WITH TEXTUAL MEDIA?
    In terms of my own kids, I’m encouraging them to read the books of some of their favourite movies and to learn how to both comprehend and critique the underlying mythologies. The other day we were discussing common threads between Narnia and Star Wars and the Bible when, after discussing the Jesus and Satan parallels my eight year old son said, “Edmond [from Narnia] is like Peter [the apostle].” I asked, “Hows that?” He said, “They both betrayed but turned away from the dark side like Darth Vader and were forgiven.” How awesome is that!
    You see, we’re so used to intellectually engaging with textual media and emotionally engaging with visual media, but I think we need to encourage emotional and intellectual engagement with both.

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  2. PS. I have found Neal Stephenson’s book, “In the beginning was the command line” also parallels this discussion. In it he highlights the negative consequences of shifting from Command Line Interfaces (think DOS) to Graphic User Interfaces (think Windows). People say a picture is worth a 1000 words, but sometimes much nuance and deeper understanding is lost in that translation.

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  3. Check my blog post of today, with comments
    http://methodius.blogspot.com/2011/10/steve-jobs-more-popular-than-michael.html
    A pictures is worth 1000 words, but without the few words it would be meaningless.
    Check also the comment from Graham Downs.
    The image of a “folder” is meaningless, unless you worked in an office and used manual filing systems. The “save” image still shows a stiffy disk — most computers don’t have stiffy drives today. For many things I prefer the command line interface.

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