"The Media is a Metaphor"

I like books on culture and I dislike them. I like that I begin to understand the ocean I’m swimming in. I like that there are those who can step out of it, even try to gaze at our stream from another time in history. It is amazing to see what assumptions we have already swallowed. That said, I dislike these books because I cannot read them without a disjointed disillusionment toward all aspects of my culture and everyone I meet. So I hate these books because as a Christian worker my job is to be a bridge-maker. Anthropologists who write such books as this are professional critics not pastors, school teachers, politicians, or businessmen. They don’t have to make sense of the nonsense they are describing, only poke fun at it. This is why I do enjoy reading David Wells more than most, because he at least attempts to make sense of an answer. I had to laugh last night because I was reading these exact paragraphs which I have posted below when I came into our church to help clean up for VBS:

I use the word “conversation” metaphorically to refer not only to speech but to all techniques and technologies that permit people of a particular culture to exchange messages. In this sense, all culture is a conversation or, more precisely, a corporation of conversations, conducted in a variety of symbolic modes. Our attention here is on how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of content can issue from such forms.

To take a simple example of what this means, consider the primitive technology of smoke signals. While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument. Puffs of smoke are insufficiently complex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom. You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content. To say it then, as plainly as I can, this book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television.”-Amusing Ourselves to Death

As I read that this is what I walked in to (and I was lucky, if I had come 30 seconds earlier I would have seen our pastors leading our kids in singing and the motions of YVBS! to the tune of YMCA):

But I have to smile. Singing and dance are not a 21st century invention. And this is not the only or primary way in which my church conducts itself or broadcasts its message. I’m too prone to seriousness. And the message of the gospel is not fully captured with stern admonition. I’m glad for both good entertainment and hours of study. And that last night, was good entertainment… Just let it not be the sum total of our message. There is far too much at stake.

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