Mass Media and the Vertigo of Interpretation
The US media has proven vastly incompetent in recent years, and unsurprisingly is suffering historically low levels of public trust as a result. Tumultuous change in the industry 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 diets facilitated by the internet further 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 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 our profit-based globe-spanning media complex.
~4000 words, currently in the editing process.
The Delancey Incident (fiction)
A swishing of polyester workwear, then a thud, barely perceptible. In the relative calm of the FDR Drive at 3 AM, a tense body tumbled headfirst out the window of a speeding 2020 Escalade, briefly skidded along the asphalt before the friction dragged it to a sudden halt. From within the Escalade, already hundreds of feet away, not one of the now 11 passengers could see that the 65% polyester, 35% cotton twill weave that encased Joshua’s body had gone miraculously unscathed. The blunt force of the 85 mph fall alone had broken and killed him nearly instantaneously, but his pale-rose skin had been preserved from road rash, save for a concise gash at the junction of his temple and forehead. The only perceptible motion of his otherwise still body was a stream of tiny, perfectly spherical globules of blood slowly rolling down the water repellant fabric and collecting in a small crimson pool that shimmered in the reflected moonlight of the East River.
In the Escalade a voice broke the tense silence:
Bataille, Labor and Sacred Experience
Georges Bataille suggests that our lives are separated into a dichotomy of profane and sacred existences.
In the profane world, our activities are aimed at growth. The profane world seeks to produce something— a measurable outcome. This is how we define work, by its measurable output. This world is enclosed by taboos which serve to maintain a utilitarian mindset— sensuality of all kinds, for instance, is generally discouraged in the workplace. These taboos reign in the chaotic impulses of humankind to function as a collaborative, productive force and pursue desirable (typically non-carnal, preservation-oriented) long-term goals
In the sacred world, we expend energy with no expectation of anything in return. These moments are celebratory, violent, religious, sensual. They are times of sheer experience, connection with an inner primality in an ecstatic deluge of energy from oneself. The output of these acts cannot be sufficiently measured or quantified the same way profane labor can.
In sacred moments we are freed from the overwhelming utilitarian impulse that the modern world insists upon, demands of us. We are concerned with production for, and only for, production’s own sake— concerned solely with the experience itself.
Contingency Markets (fiction)
I was at a table for nine. You really could barely move your arms. The place was small, and the chairs were all crammed together and butting out into the singular walkway. The waiters were swinging huge trays of steaming food just above our heads.
If one of them drops, I thought, that’s it. This is all over.
But the place looked old. They were better than that. The waitstaff were dexterous, weaving gracefully between chairs, tables, patrons and each other.
They were expressionless too. This was rote. This was flow. One leapt over me, effortlessly moving his tray from two to one hand mid-flight in a stunning maneuver. Ten out of ten.