Printed books are the new media that still fascinates me – new if your perspective includes hieroglyphics. Mine does.
Marshal McLuhan and friends identified how the Guttenberg Bible, the first printed book, created a social and political revolution known as “the Reformation”. Once everyone could own their own copy of the Bible, hold it, interpret it themselves, it wasn’t a big leap for Jesus to become their “personal Lord and Savior”. Jesus was less a man of the crowd, feeding the crowd; now Jesus was a friend there in the privacy of one’s own home, helping everyone who can read to understand the Word up close, personal. The priests and pope are not so much mediaries as meddlesome.
The media is the message, was McLuhan’s catchphrase. (Understanding Media; The extensions of Man, 1964) Moveable type and mass printing changed everything. Then came the radio. Franklin D. Roosevelt used that well with his fireside chats, taking politics out of the public square and into everyone’s living room. Then movies, brought faraway places into every small town. Then television, with white people learning more and more about themselves in the privacy of their living rooms, while African Americans often gathered and watched white people, laughed at them, critiquing their lifestyle. It was a different experience for racially segregated new medium, as Bell Hooks has so brilliantly identified. (Reel to Real; Race, class and the Movies, 2008)
Now digital media. Now South Park, created using 3D animation but taken back to 2D animation in its look, media moving backward, reversing its progress, time’s arrow bent backward. Why. That’s a question for the creators, why use a more advanced technology to create an older aesthetic appearance?
Obviously, it’s just a tool. The use of 3D as the first step, computer-generated technologies make animating the characters a faster, if more expensive process. Yet, the real advance is the aesthetic appeal of the characters, not the process, taken even further into a primitive paper cutout look with South Park’s Canadian characters.
McLuhan was just half-right. The medium extends our ability to imagine and create, but one medium doesn’t supplant another and there’s a dialectical relationship between medium and message. Some call it art. Modern graffiti artists may use spray paint, the gesture and motivation akin to a cave painter and Davinci painting a fresco.
McLuhan saw progress as time’s arrow but it isn’t anything without our imagination. We make time; rocks don’t. Only living things can conceive of a narrative structure.
But that’s not nothing. We do make time, a narrative. Time might be one of the great inventions of biological beings. History. The notion of progress or regression. Making sense of sunrises and sunsets, days ‘passing’, birth and death. We make sense.
I’m running out of time here. To be continued…