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How the Media Shapes Perception


Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated will fundamentally rework the way you see the world, which may in turn lead to fundamental reworkings of how you live in it. Perhaps the easiest way to describe what de Zengotita means by "mediated" is to say that everything in the world—every car color, perfume scent, and variety of corn chip—is there for you: The world as presented to us by media revolves entirely around us consumers.

MEDIATED: How Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live In It

Couple this with the fact that everything operates simultaneously as thing and as representative—there's McDonald's, the actual place where you can buy fries that taste the same in Minneapolis and Madrid, and there's "McDonald's," which is the fact of McDonald's in the world—and de Zengotita's argument becomes clearer: there's nothing that isn't mediated. For example, when you're introduced to someone and you shake their hand to meet them, you also meet yourself meeting them—you mentally gauge yourself, the firmness of your grip, and if your smile is that perfectly practiced mix of earnestness and wisdom you've seen so often in the media.

De Zengotita, a contributing editor at Harper's, is probably the best mass media critic out there, if for no reason other than that he's simultaneously dead serious, funny as hell, and he actually uses vulgar language in the truest sense. He uses "like" in the way you and I use "like" (as in, like, a lot), and he begins sentences that become questions halfway through. His writing never gets mired in academic terms, never makes you feel like if you missed the Ph.D. train, you'll probably miss his point, too. Best of all, de Zengotita wonderfully refuses to allow that there's some simple, clear way out of this; as he carefully articulates, there are few scenarios other than emergency or chaos that can snap us from our bubble of mediation (and sometimes not even then—when we respond to the late-night, desperate phone call, is our response informed by all the late-night, desperate phone calls we've seen on television?). His conclusion especially is not the self-congratulatory closure that our mediated selves desire—which is, of course, precisely de Zengotita's point.


Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated

In this utterly original look at our modern "culture of performance," de Zengotita shows how media are creating self-reflective environments, custom made for each of us. From Princess Diana's funeral to the prospect of mass terror, from oral sex in the Oval Office to cowboy politics in distant lands, from high school cliques to marital therapy, from blogs to reality TV to the Weather Channel, Mediated takes us on an original and astonishing tour of every department of our media-saturated society. The implications are personal and far-reaching at the same time.
Thomas de Zengotita is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. He teaches at the Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.
"Reading Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated is like spending time with a wild, wired friend-the kind who keeps you up late and lures you outside of your comfort zone with a speed rap full of brilliant notions."-O magazine
"A fine roar of a lecture about how the American mind is shaped by (too much) media...."-Washington Post
"Deceptively colloquial, intellectually dense...This provocative, extreme and compelling work is a must-read for philosophers of every stripe."-Publishers Weekly

Why we are what we are - Mediated: The Hidden Effects of the Media on You and Your World

Almost everything, you see, comes to us through some media prism, which, in turn, colours not just our view of this life, but our own self-definition. We are products of immense, often inchoate, media indoctrination.

Moreover, the very pattern of life we take for granted, our normality, is hectic, digital and new, quite different in kind from that of even recent generations. You know where you were when Kennedy or Di died or the Twin Towers came toppling down. But does anybody, except those few who were there, on the spot, remember Pearl Harbor?

No, because no instant, vivid media existed to bring the enormity of that moment to you and make you share it. Our lives, as recently as the first half of the 20th century, were different in kind: isolated, unchanging, experiencing great events at a sluggardly distance.

You recognise that in so many ways if you pause and ponder. De Zengotita, who has a wonderful way with personal anecdotes, says silly little reconstructed things can make you cry, and he's right. www.theguardian.com

About the Author
Thomas de Zengotita is a contributing editor at Harper's Magazine and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University. He teaches at the Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.

Philosopher Thomas de Zengotita devoted 30 years to devising a theory of modern media that could cover everything from wisemouth kids on The Simpsons to wall-to-wall media coverage of Sept. 11. De Zengotita speaks with NPR's Neal Conan and takes calls about his new book, Mediated: How the Media Shapes your World and the Way you Live in It.
Chapter 1 of 'Mediated' (PDF)



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