Television as a form of knowledge in the New Age
(To read about Jon’s mega-collection, The Matrix Revealed, click here.)
“The media have substituted themselves for the older world… The new media are not bridges between man and nature —they are nature… The new media are not ways of relating us to the old world; they are the real world and they reshape what remains of the old world at will… In television, images are projected at you. You are the screen. The images wrap around you. You are the vanishing point… The whole tendency of modern communication… is towards participation in a process, rather than apprehension of concepts.” (Marshall McLuhan)
The rest of the film is dialogue and monologue about television. Thus you could say that, in this case, word defeats image.
Even when showing what happens on the TV screen, Network bursts forth with lines like these, from newsman Howard Beale, at the end of his rope, on-camera, speaking to his in-studio audience and millions of people in their homes:
“So, you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth. Television’s a god-damned amusement park. Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, sideshow freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We’re in the boredom-killing business… We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube. You even think like the tube. This is mass madness. You maniacs. In God’s name, you people are the real thing. We are the illusion.”
Beale, coming apart at the seams, is a mad prophet. And because he shines with brilliance and poetry, he can affect minds. Therefore, the television network can make use of him. It can turn him into a cartoon for the masses.
It is Beale’s language and the passion with which he delivers it that constitutes his dangerous weapon. Therefore, the Network transforms him into a cheap religious figure, whose audience slathers him with absurd adoration.
Television’s enemy is the word. Its currency is image.
Beale breaks through the image and defiles it. He cracks the egg. He stops the picture-flow. He brings back the sound and rhythm of spoken poetry. That is his true transgression against the medium that employs him.
Television, in the main, does not attempt to impart knowledge. It strives to give the viewer the impression that he knows something. There is a difference.
Knowledge, once established, is external to, and independent of, the viewer. Whereas the impression of knowing is a feeling, a conviction, a belief the viewer holds, after he has watched moving images on a screen.
Images… plus, of course, in the case of the news, the narrative voice.
A basic premise of New Age thinking is: “everything is (connected to) everything.” This fits quite well with the experience of watching film or video flow.
Example: we see angry crowds on the street of a foreign city. Then young people on their cell phones sitting in an outdoor café. Then the marble lobby of a government building where men in suits are walking, standing in groups talking to each other. Then at night, rockets exploding in the sky. Then armored vehicles moving through a gate into the city. Then clouds of smoke on another street and people running, chased by police.
A flow of consecutive images. The sequence, obviously, has been assembled by a news editor, but most of the viewing audience isn’t aware of that. They’re watching the “interconnected” images and listening to a news anchor tell a story that colors (infects) every image.
Viewers thus believe they know something. Television has imparted that sensation to them. That’s what news is all about: delivering a sensation of knowing to the audience.
There is no convenient place where the ordinary viewing audience can stop the flow of images or the story being told. They are inside it. They don’t have the leverage of a crystallized idea or the power of reasoning to get out.
They are inside the story. Knowledge thus becomes story.
The viewer is transfixed by the sensation that he is “inside” watching story.
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This fixation produces a short circuit in his reasoning mind (if he has one). No time to stop, no time to think; just watch the flow.
When you take this pattern out to a whole society, you are talking about a dominant method through which “knowledge” is gained.
“Did you see that fantastic video about the Iraq War? It showed that Saddam actually had bioweapons.”
“Really? How did they show that?”
“Well, I don’t exactly remember. But watch it. You’ll see.”
And that’s another feature of the modern acquisition of knowledge: amnesia about details.
The viewer can’t recall key features of what he saw. Or if he can, he can’t describe them, because he was in the flow. He was inside, busy building up his impression of knowing something.
Narrative-visual-television story strips out and discards conceptual references. And lines of reasoning? To the extent they exist, they’re wrapped around and inside the image-flow and the narration.
Ideas aren’t as interesting as images. That’s the premise.
To grasp the diminishment of language, consider the current use of the word “text.” Suddenly it’s become a verb; it means a process of sending words. It also refers to paragraphs or pages of writing, as opposed to pictures. “Text” makes “writing” seem like nothing more than one functional (and machine-like) method of delivering information.
And since bone-dry information (e.g., “genetic sequences”) these days is practically considered a synonym for life, when a writer infuses his words with passion, they automatically become a “rant.” “Rant” was formerly applied to describe what a person did when he was totally unhinged to the point of making no coherent sense.
Image, not the word, is the now preferred means of acquiring what passes for knowledge.
McLuhan: “Media are means of extending and enlarging our organic sense lives into our environment… My main theme is the extension of the nervous system in the electric age.”
All our electronic devices operate as extensions of our senses. In the process, image predominates, and through feedback, the majority of those pictures are produced by media. As if knowledge were being transferred.
Retired propaganda master, Ellis Medavoy (pseudonym), once told me in an interview: “If you wanted to try a real revolution, you would produce thousands of videos consisting of written words on screens, with someone speaking those words. You would try to reinstate language as a medium. Poetry, formal arguments and debates, great speeches, dramatic readings. You would go up against image and try to relegate it to its proper place…”
These days, we are witness to an international treaty, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), being negotiated in secret, with the precise words of the treaty withheld from both legislators and the public. The TPP will create an overriding form of global governance for the US and 11 other nations.
The degree of outrage, so far, is on the order of a bonfire in a park.
If this were happening in the American colonies of the 18th century, where several hundred thousand copies of Tom Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, were distributed among a total population of only 2.5 million people, the earth would shake.
The word meant something then; thousands of pages of words, held in secret, determining the shape of the future, would have instigated a revolution.
Today, that secrecy of words causes minor flames, because generations of Americans have been suckled on images.
Howard Beale: “…we know that democracy is a dying giant, a sick, sick dying, decaying political concept, writhing in its final pain… What is finished is the idea that this great country is dedicated to the freedom and flourishing of every individual in it. It’s the individual that’s finished. It’s the single, solitary human being that’s finished. It’s every single one of you out there that’s finished. Because this is no longer a nation of independent individuals. It’s a nation of some two hundred odd million transistorized, deodorized, whiter-than-white, steel-belted bodies, totally unnecessary as human beings and as replaceable as piston rods.”
Paddy Chayefsky’s words. He made his pen a sword, because he was writing a movie about television, against television. He was going up against image as the primary form of knowledge. He was the man for the job.
When a technology (television) turns into a method of perception, reality is turned inside out. People watch TV through TV eyes. They observe their blessings the way crowds suck in the tautologies of a tinpot dictator.
Mind control is no longer something merely imposed from the outside. It is a matrix of a self-feeding, self-demanding loop. Willing devotees of the image want images, food stamps of the programmed society.
The author of three explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED, EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, and POWER OUTSIDE THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. He maintains a consulting practice for private clients, the purpose of which is the expansion of personal creative power. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free NoMoreFakeNews emails here or his OutsideTheRealityMachine emails here.