Mass Media and the Vertigo of Interpretation (teaser)

The US media has proven vastly incompetent in recent years and is unsurprisingly suffering historically low levels of public trust. Tumultuous change in the industry, most significantly in marketing strategy, over the past several decades precipitated today’s polarized, histrionic media environment, while emergent technologies in data analytics and advertising have enabled the exploitation of our worst impulses, reshaping both our headlines and our discourse. Likewise, the era of disparate, self-curated media feeds enabled by the internet threatens a cohesive perception of national and global politics on which we can base a common discourse.

More and more, the reality of our atomized media resembles the anxious vision of theorist Jean Baudrillard, whose prescient analysis of the then-burgeoning modern media complex anticipated much of our present crisis. Often derided as pessimistic, Baudrillard regarded the rapidly developing mediascape with apprehension, identifying a disruption of symbolic exchange as an inevitability of mass media. Because of the imperfect replication and sheer scale of transmission in a global mediascape, a crucial disconnect exists— an overseas war retains little, if any, of its horror to the disaffected viewer to whom the war has no significance beyond its presence in the media. The physical distance between the viewer and mediated events, often hundreds and thousands of miles apart, are necessarily abstracted, degrading and perverting the information in transit. This disruption applies to some extent to all communication media, but the sense of frantic urgency in today’s hyperactive media environment seems to suggest we’ve overextended ourselves, while the hysterics and viciousness of our political discourse indicates a critical social disconnect. Throughout his work, Baudrillard acknowledges his credence to Marshall McLuhan’s the medium is the message, which he calls “the key formula of the era of simulation” in his early essay “Implosion of Meaning in the Media.” To echo McLuhan’s mantra, the attributes that characterize today’s global mediascape, and specifically those of the internet, have introduced serious complications and distortions to both our socio-political discourse and the global flow of information. We are just now beginning to see the fallout of the inherent flaws of a profit-obsessed globe-spanning media complex.

~4,000 words, in the editing process.

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