Unreal Nature

September 30, 2016

Ads Are News

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… [the] mosaic form [of news media] has become a dominant aspect of human association; for the mosaic form means, not a detached “point of view,” but participation in process.

This is from ‘Press: Government by News Leak’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… As the speed of information increases, the tendency is for politics to move away from representation and delegation of constituents toward immediate involvement of the entire community in the central acts of decision.

… Both book and newspaper are confessional in character, creating the effect of inside story by their mere form, regardless of content. As the book page yields the inside story of the author’s mental adventures, so the press page yields the inside story of the community in action and interaction. It is for this reason that the press seems to be performing its function most when revealing the seamy side.

[line break added] Real news is bad news — bad news about somebody, or bad news for somebody. In 1962, when Minneapolis had been for months without a newspaper, the chief of police said: “Sure, I miss the news, but so far as my job goes I hope the papers never come back. There is less crime around without a newspaper to pass around the ideas.”

… The early stages by which information itself became the basic economic commodity of the electric age were obscured by the ways in which advertising and entertainment put people off the track. Advertisers pay for space and time in paper and magazine, on radio and TV; that is, they buy a piece of the reader, listener, or viewer as definitely as if they hired our homes for a public meeting. They would gladly pay the reader, listener, or viewer directly for his time and attention if they knew how to do so. The only way so far devised is to put on a free show.

… The book-oriented man has the illusion that the press would be better without ads and without the pressure from the advertiser. Reader surveys have astonished even publishers with the revelation that the roving eyes of newspaper readers take equal satisfaction in ads and news copy. During the Second World War, the U.S.O. sent special issues of the principal American magazines to the Armed Forces, with the ads omitted. The men insisted on having the ads back again. Naturally.

[line break added] The ads are by far the best part of any magazine or newspaper. More pains and thought, more wit and art go into the making of an ad than into any prose feature of press or magazine. Ads are news. What is wrong with them is that they are always good news. In order to balance off the effect and to sell good news, it is necessary to have a lot of bad news.

… Here I must repeat that the newspaper, from its beginnings, had tended, not to the book form, but to the mosaic or participational form. With the speedup of printing and news-gathering, this mosaic form has become a dominant aspect of human association; for the mosaic form means, not a detached “point of view,” but participation in process. For that reason, the press is inseparable from the democratic process, but quite expendable from a literary or book point of view.

Again, the book-oriented man misunderstands the collective mosaic form of the press when he complains about its endless reports on the seamy underside of the social garment. Both book and press are, in their very format, dedicated to the job of revealing the inside story, whether it is Montaigne giving the private reader the delicate contours of his mind, or Hearst and Whitman resonating their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world. It is the printed form of public address and high intensity with its precise uniformity of repetition that gives to book and press alike the special character of public confessional.

The first items in the press to which all men turn are the ones about which they already know. If we have witnessed some event, whether a ball game or a stock crash or a snowstorm, we turn to the report of that happening, first. Why? The answer is central to any understanding of media. Why does a child like to chatter about the events of its day, however jerkily? Why do we prefer novels and movies about familiar scenes and characters?

[line break added] Because for rational beings to see or re-cognize their experience in a new material form is an unbought grace of life. Experience translated into a new medium literally bestows a delightful playback of earlier awareness. The press repeats the excitement we have in using our wits, and by using our wits we can translate the outer world into the fabric of our own beings.

My most recent previous post from McLuhan’s book is here.

-Julie

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