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Visual media rules! The lost war against forgetting

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 8 September 2010

"Forgiving presupposes remembering." Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now 1963.

The word is dead! Long live TV and the Internet (TV-net). Hail videogames and online worlds. Blessed are the search engines Google, Altavista and Bing for in to their hands we commit our memory and history.

This is a story about memory and why TV-net are helping us lose ours.


There are two issues here that are mutually inclusive. One is the nature and quality of content we see on TV-net. For those of us in our 50s and 60s (and therefore doomed to be labelled NIMBY boomers, lost in nostalgia), we can remember live TV and current affairs programs that actually were expositions on the news of the day.

Yet the value we place on TV-net content is a matter of individual taste. One man’s Hogan’s Heroes is another man’s Charlie Chaplin. TV-net is tailor-made for hawking the trivial in to our lounge or bedrooms and that is what it does best.

Many of the modern thinkers of communications such as Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman recognised that because the “medium was the message”, the nature and ideology behind the technology which carried the message was alloyed to the content.

So in the case of TV and online news, flashy graphics, fast moving pictures, ten-second grabs, cut aways, old video footage edited on to new, are all tailor made for a visual medium.

And the ideology behind the content of TV, Google and the raft of spin offs created by converging and splitting mediums is entertainment.

Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all interactive discourse on TV-net. What we watch, and like to watch, are pictures - millions of them - of short duration and dynamic variety. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, unless you’re focused on trying to make sense of the news of the day.


It is in the nature of TV-net to suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the values of visual interest - and when it comes to news, matters of policy or politics, these are the values of show business.

In the early 1980s Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death that: “Modern visual communication is essentially fantasist because of the simulacrum of interactivity. It is rarely a mentally challenging activity. The sum requisite knowledge of how to play is provided for us.”

When Postman says “requisite knowledge” he means the organising principle of how pictures are created and gathered for us.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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