Media is slowly turning us all into somnambulists, especially in
an era of rapid electronic reproduction. As we dive deeper and deeper
into a man-made sea of technological gadgets and information widgets,
the content that is created through their use heightens the “spectacle”
as described by Guy
Debord in Society of the Spectacle, and engulfs us
in a perpetual state of trance-like suspension. “Prediction
and control consist in avoiding [a] subliminal state of Narcissus
McLuhan, Understanding Media, p. 15) According to McLuhan,
only the serious artist is able to avoid this trance through an
awareness of the changes in visceral perception. However, the serious
artist is only a slight fraction of the global population. And “global”
is now where technology has taken us.
As we quickly reach the carrying capacity of this planet, the "spectacle"
grows with us. Larger populations demand more jobs to support families.
At the same rate, media grows to deliver content to these rapidly
growing populations and more people rely on the media itself to
survive regardless of the effects of content. So, what happens to
a society that depends on sustaining this trance as a means to survive?
I recently viewed the film "Elephant" written and directed
Van Sant about everyday high schools kids who decide to shoot
up their school and everyone in it. The film was made in response
to the Columbine shootings just a few years ago. Although not intentional,
Van Sant demonstrates the thesis in which McLuhan attacks through
exemplifying the trance-like state induced by the media upon ordinary
kids. According to the film, these kids learned violence through
media. They practiced their aim playing a video game, they watched
forms of propaganda through archived Nazi television specials while
assembling their new guns that they purchased through the internet.
Van Sant portrays them developing and deploying their plan-of-attack
with virtually no signs of remorse or emotion whatsoever. They seemed
to be floating through time, desensitized, through their own media-rich
As the spectacle is kept alive, shock-value decreases,
forcing the content to explode with more spectacle, until it desensitizes
human values and existence altogether. I was just in a discussion
about how the murder of a person in a film or the local news does
nothing emotionally for them since it's a theme they expect to see.
If a dog dies, however, it's devastating.
We are surrounded by content forced upon us through
media, yet we rely on new technologies to communicate to friends
and family. Aside from the rare serious designer, it cannot be escaped.
Media becomes the vehicle in which to make a living, support families,
sustain relationships, and to simply exist unalienated in our own
cultures. "The ultimate conflict between sight and sound, between
written and oral kinds of perception and organization of existence
is upon us." (McLuhan, p.16)