I’m reluctant to use the term “mass media” because so much of what we call “mass” is actually being composted by the blurring distinction between consumer and producer, and the transition from the one to many paradigm of media broadcasts to the many to many model of networks. Nonetheless, both ecologies still exist simultaneously and we could say that TV exhibits the old broadcast model the most of any medium, though it’s changing every day, the writer’s strike being at the cusp of the new space that TV is entering into.
Up to now I’ve thought of mass media as having one primary ideological impact, which is the idea that reality is inherently false and the only way to transform it is through buying into the commodities system. However, in the article clipped below, Robert K. Blechman illustrates an equally persistent theme in televised content: the pitting of antisocial against social behavior. The goal of television is, in a sense, to constantly normalize and reign in abhorrent behavior. Mary Ann Doane argues that it also tries to stave off catastrophe by containing it through the medium. A good example is how immediately after the planes crashed into the Twin Towers the news agencies edited film-like trailers that constructed a narrative sequence to make the event movie-like, and therefore more psychologically acceptable.
The subject of Robert’s article is the contradiction between the moral condemnation of performance enhancing drugs and the simultaneous promotion of performance enhancing everything that is exemplified by TV. This is an aside, but I noticed that for a while the trendy word of marketing was “unleash”: unleash your inner whatever, which I thought was such a thoughtless and ultimately stupid mindset that culminates in misadventures like the Iraq war. It’s a bad thing when our leaders feel obliged to “unleash” their ideology on the world, let alone attack dogs on torture victims. Anyhow, as a diehard baseball fan (yes its true!), I have been intrigued by the Roger Clemens soap opera (he was called out in a major report on performance enhancement drugs in baseball). I never liked Clemens and thought of him as the Hummer of baseball, an arrogant, shameless self-promoter that reminded me so much of President Bush. I imagine as Clemens fights for his public image (I wouldn’t be surprised if his Wikipedia page is going through some major rewrites at the moment) with denial after denial (in fairness, technically he is not guilty of anything), I’m left with a sense that our culture has become a steroid culture: beefed up but sick at its core, ill-tempered and in a kind of enraged denial that only the worse kind of coke addict could exhibit. As such, I think its useful to observe how these patterns play out across the board, and I think Robert’s article does a fine job of that.
From Robert K. Blechman’s blog, A Model Media Ecologist:
So we have a basic opposition within the content structure presented by American television. On the one hand we have advertisements, where the performance enhancing drugs or productsmust be used, and on the opposite end we have sports where the performance enhancing drug must not be used. In between we have differing interations of this primary opposition, with entertainment and news content reflecting multiple variations of this use/don’t use opposition.
The point is that we aren’t concerned with the effect of drug use, or the unfair advantages performance enhancing drugs might give to advertising, entertainment or news personalities. We are concerned with the advantages performance enhancing drugs might give to professional atheletes. In their case, the use of any drug is itself a violation of the rules which state that, though any given athelete might already represent an outlier of norms concerning physical strength and ability, they shouldn’t do anything “artificial” to enhance their already considerable talents.
Update: A funny confirmation of my thesis: