Marshall Mcluhan is the Karl Marx of the
21st century. Although the Canadian media theorist has fallen in
and out of favor since his groundbreaking work in the 1960s, and
especially during the rise of the World Wide Web, it may be time to
revisit some Mcluhanisms. Here’s a few in relation to brand
America:

Zack Denfeld

“At the speed of light political policies and parties
yield place to charismatic images.”

I feel bad for citizens who were hoodwinked by the CNN clip-art
propaganda onslaught that preceded the Iraq war, and especially by
the ridiculous image of President Bush’s action-hero landing
on aircraft carrier to announce the end of combat operations in
Iraq.

However, if one got past the imagery and looked at the Bush
administration’s policies in the context of Iraqi history and
information from the field, and the philosophy of the
neo-conservative cadre that pushed for the Iraqi invasion, the
run-up to the war and the last six months in particular should have
come as no surprise.

“The coverage is the war. If there were no coverage
… there’d be no war. Yes the newsmen and the mediamen
around the world are actually the fighters, not the soldiers
anymore.”

Although some may be comforted by images of the president
wearing a flight suit, smiling, surrounded by tech and patriotism,
I prefer sound policies any day, but good policy is only possible
when the mediamen on the front line point their cameras at the
right targets.

“The Medium is the message.”

Q: What is a nonhierarchical decentralized interconnected system
of networks that transfers information where actions are
emergent?

A: The Internet or al-Qaida.

The rise in Islamic fundamentalism has many geo-political
explanations, but I can’t help but see a direct correlation
between the decentralized network of al-Qaida and other
contemporary terrorists cells and the advent of the World Wide Web
in 1990.

For good and bad, the Internet, and especially the Web, lets
very specific and fringe elements of any cultural landscape gather
anonymously, make connections and share information, while unwieldy
top-down power structures begin their great tumble.

Television ended the Vietnam War. The web birthed the war on
terror.

“NBC and CBS could easily become the political
‘parties’ of the future.”

While Mcluhan didn’t live to see the rise of the FOX News
Channel I am sure it would have come as no surprise.

American media outlets have always had partisan leanings, but
FOX News seems to have lost any semblance of journalistic integrity
or perspective, and panders purely to a viewer base that is not
interested in objectivity, but rather in belonging.

While “Outfoxed” was an interesting but limited
response to FOX News Channel’s purposeful misinformation, it
did cite the oft-reprinted internal memos from FOX news chief John
Moody. Media ethicists: Read these primary source documents if you
dare.

“Rapid changes of identity, happening suddenly and in very
brief intervals of time, have proved more deadly and destructive of
human values than wars fought with hardware weapons.”

With the advent of television the American rugged individualized
citizen morphed into the cool corporate consumer. It will be
interesting to see what the Internet changes Americans into.

“Only puny secrets need protection. Big Secrets are
protected by public incredulity. You can actually dissipate a
situation by giving it maximal coverage. As to alarming people,
that’s done by rumors, not by coverage.”

Only public incredulity can explain the months in 2002 and 2003
when Iraq transitioned from a troubling secular fascist regime to
public enemy number one in the “war on terrorism.”

For most people it was impossible to conceive that the neocons,
many with direct ties to Israel, desperately wanted this war and
that the Bush administration would make unfounded ties between
al-Qaida and Iraq and weapons of mass destruction to justify
it.

What was an entirely avoidable, or at least, a
multilateral-justified war became an inevitable unilateral
pre-emptive invasion as a result of maximal coverage by American
mainstream media.

Of course, I doubt any of this would have been possible without
everyone being scared shitless by random and meaningless color
changes in the terror-o-meter, and vague and unfounded rumors that
always happened to coincide with important political events.

With Dick Cheney rumoring on Tuesday that electing John Kerry
may lead to another terrorist attack, I wonder if the current
administration has any respect for the democratic process at
all.

“Instead of scurrying into a corner and wailing about what
media are doing to us, one should charge straight ahead and kick
them in the electrodes.”

I am heartened by groups such as Adbusters, MoveOn.org and the
diverse range of tactical media artists such as the Institute for
Applied Autonomy, Billionaires for Bush and Critical Mass that have
taken Mcluhan’s advice and used low- and high-tech media to
kick the media where it hurts.

“We have become irrevocably involved with, and responsible
for, each other.”

This country desperately needs a new leader to start fresh in
the global village. I hope all of the political excitement
generated in progressive camps to defeat the Bush administration
spills over into pushing for and implementing actual policy
initiatives that can help the forthcoming Kerry administration
re-enter the 21st century with a fresh perspective, and begin to
make sense of the Information Bomb that the whole world is trying
to deal with.

 

Denfeld can be reached at
“mailto:zcd@umich.edu”>zcd@umich.edu.

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