Media & Mediafication

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CommonDreams.org

Media & Mediafication

media — something in the middle; something that transmits or carries something else; a plural form of medium, now widely understood as a singular noun for the aggregate of journalists and broadcasters, as in "the mainstream media"

mediate — to act in the middle to reconcile differences.

"Mediated" — a 2005 book by Thomas de Zengotita, subtitled "How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It". The author explores the expanded reach of the media in our lives today and finally suggests that the sum total of representations and mediations abroad in the world now exceeds the quantity and materiality of the realities they represent, and that this gross mediafication obscures assorted unpalatable truths and inconvenient realities in a choking smog of artificial, immaterial and unsustainable realities.

Some 30 springs ago, bicycling around my shady Kent neighborhood I saw out of the corner of my eye a small plane gliding low over the trees, a familiar sight with the Kent State University Airport less than a mile away. I turned to get a better look, and was horrified to see the plane plunge earthward. As I waited for the crash the plane suddenly reappeared: it was a kite designed to look like a plane. I blushed at my folly, and have tried ever since to correct my misperception.

But it's never worked very well. I have a stubborn, vivid memory of seeing a plane crash, and no amount of reason or logic can mediate between that initial impression and what I know "really happened" that afternoon.

This spring an old recording, putatively made from a dorm window during the Kent State shootings, was brought out of storage hoping to prove that the Guardsmen were ordered to fire and thereby to mediate the perceptions of people about what "really happened" on May 4, 1970.

It's plausible: a few Guardsmen believed they heard an order to fire; the words are unclear, and there is no way to identify the voice speaking them, nor to prove when they were spoken. But the publicity given to the recording re-ignited smoldering anger over May 4.  A letter to the Record Courier asked acidly if the surviving students remember their transgressions before the shootings: "Do the students remember spitting and throwing urine on the Ohio National Guard?"

Stop. I was in Kent on May 4, 1970, and except for my few years in Washington, have been here ever since. I have never before heard anything about urine being thrown at the Guardsmen. Others in Kent are similarly puzzled: we remember some pretty outrageous accusations (like "the dead students were infected with venereal disease") but not this one.

I tried to track it down, but found less than a dozen references to Kent students throwing urine at Guardsmen, almost all in blogs during the last two weeks, and nothing earlier than 2004.  Again, it's plausible, but I don't find it any more persuasive than the overlooked recording. My perceptions/memories remain unmediated.

This spring Zbigniew Brzezinski suggested that the repeated use of the phrase "war on terror" had mediated our ability to deal with the real challenges of terrorism.  Bill Moyers pointed out that the mainstream media is largely responsible for forging a psychological link between the shock of 9/11 and the public imagination of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, creating in most people a paralyzing fear.  Moyers also reported that almost all the 414 Iraq stories broadcast in the six months before the war on ABC, CBS and NBC originated in the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department.

I rarely watch TV. My critics claim I am therefore out of touch with the real world, and indeed, if the real world consists of what is transmitted by TV, they are right.  Though both TV and the Internet offer a very wide spectrum of news and reports from the real world, they are still media that filter out huge amounts of information, and add larger quantities of information, fictions, fantasies, misrepresentations and noise.

As Zengotita points out, it's nigh impossible to know what "really happened"out there in the real world because very little comes to us unmediated. We know that what we see, hear and read is aimed not at reconciling our differences but at manipulating them.

Our media, news and entertainment are managed, designed, edited or improved, not to further the public good or our common dreams, but toward the plans and goals of those who control the pipelines and windows that mediate among the players.

That's not all — both the Bush administration and the mainstream media assume that real world systems can also be managed, designed or improved, and that humans can — and should — govern or regulate everything — Nature, oil, the oceans, space, how people do sex, which people should starve and which should be bombed, who may own what, and what gods people should worship.

We know better. Given the present unseaworthiness of Spaceship Earth and the incompetence of the pirates commanding the ship of state of the nation with the most weapons of mass destruction, we're going to have to do better, too.

Yet it is not so much that Bush and his minions are liars and use the media to mislead us (they are, they do) or that majority of us are manipulable, uncritical consumers of whatever comes through the media pipelines (we are) but that we live in an infrastructure of manufactured, selected and highly-processed realities.

I've been writing op-eds trying to mediate reality for nearly 10 years. For five of those years I have tried to persuade my readers that making war on Iraq is morally wrong and humanly indefensible. I know that many people agree with me, and seek real-world alternatives we can live with honorably and peaceably, yet we remain powerless to mediate back up the pipeline to our President and Congress.

The real world, it seems, has been mediaficated out of our control. And I don't know how to remediate that.

Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail: csarnold@neo.rr.com

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