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Media Events

Media Events

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Published by Ross Macleay

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Published by: Ross Macleay on Jun 08, 2009
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09/02/2010

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 1
Media Events.
Virtual reality.
 History
refers to both the events themselves and to the telling of those events (Hegel); the termequivocates events and their representation. This equivocation is sometimes the most cunning andsometimes the most delusive ruse of (variously) nature, psyche and society. ‘Being isunrecognisable unless it succeeds in seeming, and seeming is weak unless it succeeds in being(Gorgias of Leontini, the earliest Greek theorist of the media).’ Think of those virtual realitiesthat, having been made up, have taken on a life of their own: genes, symbols, selves. And history.Narrative art, the modern forms of which are small screen, cinematic, novelistic and dramatic
 fiction
, has always been history’s gadfly, reminding it that it is a mere shadow of its would beself.
‘Life consists of propositions about life’ (Wallace Stevens).
History is about history. The empirical subject matter of history, the main historical events of history, are accounts or images of history. The main events are media events. By empiricalsubject matter I mean that its observation is observable (von Foerster, Luhmann). Sure, somethinghappened, there once was the past ‘as it actually was’, but after the gun has stopped smoking allthat is left of what happened are the selected words about it and the selected images, which areusually only images of the aftermath. Images and words are things that happen too. They areacts
 ⎯ 
communicative acts; they actually were, and some actually endure as things. What survivesand replicates matters. Persistence is a value for narrative animals in a temporal world. History iswhat persists, that which prevails. Like gossip, myth, legend and rumour, the news
 ⎯ 
that topicalhistory of the just past
 ⎯ 
is about the news. That is, it is about media events.
Gay and melancholy science?
‘Every image of the past that is not recognised by the present as one of its concerns threatens todisappear irretrievably (Walter Benjamin).’ History must pass through the selection bottleneck of the present. The news is a gatekeeper of history. History is what prevails and ‘parades its ownarrogance (Cormac McCarthy); and, like Samuel Fuller’s
 Big Red One,
it is dedicated to thesurvivors.
Action, Disaster, War, Sci-fi, Drama, Romantic Comedy, Teen, Family, Art House
Whether historical events occur as tragedy or farce, their telling occurs as romance or satire: theromance of telling the past ‘as it actually was’; the satire of showing it as it has been told so that itmay thereby convict itself of its untruth.
Warning: can of worms.
Sometimes
the media
refers as a plural to more than one communication medium. Sometimesclarity is served by saying
the mediums.
Often t
he media
is used as a collective singular term torefer to the narrative industry generally, or in a more limited sense, to the commercial and stateowned
news
industry, and sometimes it refers to the system of communications transmitted bythis industry
 ⎯ 
a system of much replicated, much disseminated histories of the most recent past.Like the term
history
, the term
media
is equivocal because that makes it useful. Ambiguity isuseful in cobbling together a consistent argument, particular one designed to hide certain aspectsof the media from itself 
Navel gazing.
 
 2
The media has an unconscious for the same reason psyche does: to differentiate itself from what’s‘out there’. It tries to escape from itself (the scene of the crime) by not acknowledging itsinescapable self-descriptive predicament. This is a kind of self-analysis by default, like thetiptoeing child who covers her ears so she won’t be heard sneaking away. Any report on the topicof the news that claimed to be news itself would be condemned as navel gazing. As thisconfusing, recursive way of putting it should immediately demonstrate, the story will never getup.
Journalists just report it.
Media commentary and analysis rarely deliberates on the media
 ⎯ 
unless someone blames themedia, and ‘the media’ is misinterpreted by journalists to mean ‘journalists’. People are alwayshappy to go to the trouble of misinterpretation just for the gratification of being offended.Journalists are only human. They put their foot in it by using the poo-poo defence: journalistsdon’t make the news, they just report it. The ‘media’ is not ‘journalists’. The first principle of media analysis is: The media is social; journalists are only human.
The second coming
Don’t watch or read the news to find out historical background or significant analytical detail!Driven by our obsessive teleological nous, most news commentary, most media analysis, mostsocial commentary, is about the news of the future. The fact notwithstanding, wisdom is theseeming wise before it.
 Interpretation of events
means
what are the consequences
. The meaningis out there in the future at the end of the day where everything must be going to end uphappening. Nevertheless, it always sounds like the same thing again, a secular second coming. Itis just an allegory of the latest news, used as an advertisement for itself and sold as anadvertisement for that archaic rapidly changing world that other people are afraid of.
Selection or drift?
Just as history is about history, politics is about political communications: the accusation; thedeclaration; the vote; the act (of parliament); the decree; the impeachment; the inquiry; theresignation; the interview; etc. It is mainly when communication becomes non symbolic
 ⎯ 
wemight say non communicative
 ⎯ 
when it becomes war, violence, torture, that history finds itself concerned with a past-as-it-actually-was that is no longer empirical. Violence is about thedestruction of ‘the past as it actually was’. In the selection of media events, violence is likesampling error. Kindness must live on, so it must speak. Speech of course left no empiricallyobservable documents. It was so fleeting that first prosody and later writing were acts of technological innovation against the violence of the past
 ⎯ 
‘the nightmare of the past’ which‘weighs on the brains of the living’ (Marx). Herein lies the Utopian character of thosetechnologies that employ adaptations to society that are designed to make communicative actssurvive.
The real world vs what they teach students.
In the everyday self description of society, particularly in media analysis and commentary, theselected concepts
 ⎯ 
the terms, propositions and arguments, whether linguistic or visual
 ⎯ 
arereadily communicable (easy to generate and interpret), are adapted to their social environment of other terms, propositions and arguments, and they are ambiguous enough to be cobbled intoconsistency at the first hint of any contradiction. They have to be, because otherwise they wouldnot find a suitable environment for their replication and selection and they would become extinct.(Note: in film and video, shots are propositions, montage or editing is argument). These conceptsand what they refer to are not, to use the old Platonic term, ‘natural kinds’
.
They do not carvesocial nature ‘at its joints’. Even in instrumentalist terms, their adequacy is questionable.
 
 3
However, they do become reified, and then, failure to discourse in them is immediatelyinadequate, because in the ‘real world’ no-one listens. In the self-descriptions of society
 ⎯ 
inpolitics, in media analysis, in everyday sociology
 ⎯ 
inability to engage in discourse and inabilityto be heard is death. It is said that what they teach students of communications and journalism isnot about the real world. The real world has already been selected over at the main game. All thedisciplines of everyday sociology make up a discourse that is about itself.
Archaeology of virtual reality.
Sociology has long had a name for the way society’s self-descriptions conjure up their ownreality: reification. Reification is a natural consequence of the reflexive predicament of socialevolution. Reified things are virtually (i.e. effectively) real
 ⎯ 
and no less real for that. Virtualreality has been around since humans have been describing themselves
 ⎯ 
since nature inventedthe animal technology of language and humans ran with it. Like ‘Australians’, humans have longbeen keen to take up new information technologies.
Invasion of the body snatchers.
What if we reported events as media events? We would report the mountain coming to the media;otherwise it would disappear. We would report its use of vision, celebrity, issues, conflict, andviolence to replicate itself in stories and images. We would report the plots, terms and imagesusing the brains of journalists, editors, producers and the people out there as nests for theirreproduction. We would televise the same question stalking every interview: ‘How do you feel?’
How do you feel?
‘The distinctions of feeling are wholly abstract…they are not distinctions which apply to thesubject matter itself (Hegel)’. Feeling is supposed to be about concrete experience, and thehallmark of authentic individuality
 ⎯ 
hence its value as a way of hiding individuality from psycheand society. Its use as a term is a sign of the pernicious and unacknowledged reductionism of oureveryday sciences of self-understanding. Strange that what makes news is smarmy questioningabout such an abstraction, reducing everyone to ciphers so that they can be parasitised andhumiliated by the same response. Who would have thought that popular culture (in this case thenews) was more abstract than metaphysics. Like the cinema-going public, I prefer fiction todocumentary. This is mainly because too much documentary is biography
 ⎯ 
especially on TV.Everyone’s got an Australian story. Truth is not as strange as fiction. Truth is true
 ⎯ 
that is itsstrange fascination. The fictive predicament of biography, and worse, the delusive misuse of fiction’s licence are the chronic problems of biography. Biographers, screen or literary, cannotavoid this fictivity. We might call it the narrativity of biography, the fact that events have to beselected and an argument (story) constructed. We have the art of fiction to make a virtue of thisnarrativity. One way it does this is by inducing wonderful orgies of feeling to ruthlessly scrutinisethem. As for true biography, there may never have been such a thing. The epitome of badbiography is the schmalzy answer already selected for subjects by the question: How do you feel?The more guarded among us have always suspected that, like its congeners in sport and realityTV, a news appearance was humiliating, fictive and 15 seconds to be avoided if possible.
Devil’s dictionary
Examples of some handy terms that use us in society’s self descriptions: the media, thecommunity, society, culture, image, issues, real issues, deal with issues, public opinion, voterfeeling, in touch with, ordinary Australians, take offence, out there, low socio-economic,generation, young people, listen to, send the wrong message, sell, take on board, look ahead, whatwe need, leadership, work towards, manage change, at the end of the day, etc. Francis Bacon

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