Here Thar Be Monsters!

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12.6.17

It Is Neither Rare Nor Well Done

It's interesting to note that it was two Houston boys that, on the one hand made broadcast news respectable, and on the other destroyed it.

Back in the Stone Age of analog video, there was an Houstonian named Walter Cronkite.  He rose up through the ranks to become probably the most iconic American news faces of all time.  We called him "Uncle Walt", and he held our hands and walked us through wars, assassinations, (alleged) Moon landings, and some of the most enduring stories of the 20th century.  If he belched, his audience tasted lunch.  He could do no wrong and trained his viewers to trust visual news as if it was real.

His successor was also an Houstonian.  His name was Dan Rather.  He rose to fame by standing on the beach during Hurricane Carla in 1961, then pretended to be embedded with actual troops in Vietnam, and set the standard for "reporters" who made themselves part of the story, rather than objectively reporting it.

Both of them helmed CBSNews, which was once one of the most trusted network news shows, and is now one of the least.

Of course, both of them were globalist shills with different styles, but back then, globalism was one of those tin-foil hat conspiracy theories that only strange men babbling to themselves on street corners talked about - you know, the ones that Momma warned you to stay away from?

Between Walt and Dan, we see the beginning of the end of trust in media.  Walt sat in a studio and read copy to us with a voice and sincerity that made us believe anything.  Dan dove in, staged stories, pretended to be in the thick of it, and weaponized the trust we had in Walt against us.

Nowadays, whenever there's a storm a-brewin', every Tom, Dick and Slicker runs to the beach to try and become the story, a la Dan Rather.  In Desert Storm, CNN vidiots were "embedded" with rear-echelon supply trucks that got lost in the sand, had to be rescued, and then told us how harrowing the action was (that they never saw).

To my mind (a dangerous thing all by itself), the 1980s TeeVee show Max Headroom was the perfect metaphor for the vast difference in media theory.  Unbowed, intrepid reporter Edison Carter got down in the thick of it and told it like it was.  He brought us the live, gritty pictures of reality and told stories that hit hard and changed minds.  His counterpart, Max Headroom, was a creature of the media.  He was the deus ex machina that swam in the digibits and was as likely to go rogue as do anything useful.

Max Headroom was the epitome of Marshall McLuhan's assertion that in the future (now), the medium would become the message, that media would no longer be channels for communications, but the end-all-be-all of communications.  If you doubt this asserting, then ask yourself do you trust a talking-head on TeeVee more than the babbling loony on the street corner, given that their content is the same?  In fact, doesn't broadcasting something make it more real than reality?

This axiom is further demonstrated by the endless parade of personalities and celebrities who pitch products and causes for money.  Can you extract Al Gore the man from Al Gore the global-warming bubblehead?  Is there any difference in your mind between Michael Jordan the athlete and Michael Jordan the Nike shoe salesman?  Would either of these men have any credibility if the media had not conferred it upon them?

To my thinking, Max Headroom was a seminal moment in media history.  This fictional character because a ubiquitous pitchman and icon of the 1980s America.  He sold all kinds of products, was interviewed by "serious" news heads, was used to lampoon all manner of leaders and institutions, and became the message and the medium in a single entity.  I can trace the blurring of reality and fiction directly to him.

In the span of 20 years, between Uncle Walt and Max Headroom, the medium went from a passive reporter to an active creator of reality.  The decay of Western civilization rests squarely on this phenomenon.  It cannot be blamed entirely on the medium, since the audience must be active participants in this process.

Oh sure, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble pitched Winston cigarettes in a prime time animated show, and that was part of the process.  Even Peter Bergman pitching cough medicine with the famous line, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TeeVee," helped blur the line.  But Dan Rather and Max Headroom finished the process.  The former created fiction out of reality, while the latter created reality out of fiction.  Together they ensnared a civilization in a perception trap of circular references.

Our world, or at least the perception of it, has been irreparably damaged by the blurring of medium and message.  There are rays of hope as new generations seem to be extracting themselves from the medium, but it remains to be seen whether they reject the medium, or only change the message.

As the legendary Ernie Kovacs rightly said, "Television is a medium, so called because it is neither rare, nor well done."  More than any other, he truly grasped the power of the message.

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