Saturday, February 19, 2005

massless among the masses

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In an article called “The Massless Media” (in the January/February issue of The Atlantic ), William Powers argues that what was once indeed “mass” media has slowly been eroded and supplanted by the fragmented “tribalization” evidenced nowadays in the plethora of independent cable channels and “idiosyncratic Web sites” endlessly at our disposal. In this post-mass-media era, he says:

The cultural sameness and conformity that prevailed after WWII – the era of Father Knows Best and Betty Crocker – have been replaced by a popular pursuit of difference and self-expression. In explaining why McDonald’s has shifted a significant portion of its advertising into niches, an executive of the company told BusinessWeek, “From the consumer point of view, we’ve had to change from ‘I want to be normal’ to ‘I want to be special.’” In a mass-media world it’s hard to be special. But in the land of niches it’s easy. What is blogging if not a celebration of the self?

At first, Powers implicitly scorns blogs (like ours) whose readers number in the double and triple digits, as being nothing more than the “ghostly double” of the like-minded people that seek them out in the first place (the ultimate consequence of which being a decline in diverse discourse and social cohesion), but finally he champions our return to the divisive, opinionated, and most importantly, aware political climate of the pre-TV era, when there existed a “wild, cacophonous, emphatically decentralized media culture that mirrored society itself.”

Our self-portrait is not always pretty, and our niche is nebulous, but what’s one more mirror added to the funhouse maze? Sometimes it makes you look fat, but look again. There’s another one to make you look thin.


Blogger Sofia said...

I will have to agree about the “tribalization” of the media. The erruption of cable, satellite etc. brought forth more choice only superficially. The fact is that the average viewer/reader/surfer will sek out the things that are of interest to him. The key is not to return to an era of "one" news source for all. The key is rather to educate media consumers to attain a broader perspective and interest. And let's face it that is not the responsibility of corporate entities like the media.

4:33 pm EET  
Blogger Loxias said...

This world advances because (and despite) of niches and fringes. All else is either fashion or universalist abstractions.

Embrace your oddity.


5:30 pm EET  
Blogger sissoula said...

Sophia: I love it when you appear. Maybe it’s a case of like-mindedness feeding on itself, but I consider you the voice of reason (forget about Ayn Rand) distilling the drivel and infusing wisdom (I love how some Greeks really embody their names) into the whirlwind. Okay, I got my metaphors all mixed up, but what I want to say is that when this tribe starts to democratize beyond its two-member oligarchical council, I’m going to nominate you first, for chieftain. Dys and I have already decided that should we have some dispute which necessitates the intervention of a third party, we’re going to call on you. (That’s one thing the mass media have taught us: one price of celebrity is the responsibility to be a role model.)

Loxias: I’m ready to embrace my own oddity and yours, but do tell, what’s Dixi.?? (Is it revenge for the cat comment? An explanation for that one is available upon request.)

9:09 am EET  

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