It’s common to hear this lament: Our culture has subordinated ideas and values to the power of media delivery systems. Columnist David Brooks explains it as “the means of transmission” replacing “the content of culture as the center of historical excitement and the marker of social status.” My innkeeper on vacation says sadly that “it’s all about media these days…” as his voice drifts off. The medium has become the message, as proclaimed a generation ago.
I’m not convinced that vapid content on a flashy device trumps valued information scribbled on a matchbook cover. These words have power even if in faded pencil: “Hi Ho Motel, rm 221, bring ice”
You might point out that media and message are tightly entwined. The proof lies before us with the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. The message lay in the medium – the grandiosity of a human-being-water-color delivery system.
I watched – jaw aflap – as thousands of limber, black-haired Chinese undulated in unison to the world’s worst music. I experienced a new medium – People Art – featuring people as paint mixed around and set in motion to the ecstatic dictates of an uber-state.
There was message in this mad attempt to be God to thousands of citizens – to overwhelm the puny individualism of millions. Using synchronized humans as the medium, Chinese directors drove home the prediction that utopian harmony is heading our way. To the Western mind, steeped in seeking the precious uniqueness of every soul, the Beijing extravaganza was medium in service of an alien message: You lose, Western individualist. It was Orwellian Disney raised to the nth power on a harmonious stage filled with tiny colored pixels – one of which is you.