I’m no Marshall McLuhan, so I’m not about to imagine that I could ever explain the impact of the internet with the brilliance and originality that characterized McLuhan’s treatment of the impact of radio and TV. His most formative work, The Medium is the Message, appeared in 1967, which was about 20 years after a TV set was just about in every American home.
Now it’s slightly more than 20 years since the internet went from text to graphics, and you can find a laptop or handheld in just about every American home.
So again, I’m not McLuhan, but I saw something today on the internet which made me realize that it’s time we try to figure out what all this digital stuff really means.
I’m referring to a speech made by Robert Kennedy, Jr., to an anti-vaccination rally this past week in Washington, D.C., where he said that the mandates made life worse today than what Anne Frank suffered through under the Nazis because at least she could find a place to hide.
The first time I saw this mentioned, I assumed it was a mistake. How could anyone invoke the name of one of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis as being an example of a time when people were more safe?
Then I saw the comment several more times on various news websites, so obviously, it was true. I then also read endless denunciations of his comment from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and all the other usual liberal suspects who pipe up whenever someone says anything that can be construed as being in any way offensive to Jews.
But when I see someone, anyone trying to score some stupid political points by referencing the Holocaust in some kind of comparative way (i.e., ‘it’s as bad as the Holocaust’) I get really pissed off. Because there was never any other event in human history that came close to achieving the barbarity and destruction of human life that the Nazis achieved in their assault on the Jews.
And if you need to read something to ‘prove’ that what I just said is correct, then I suggest you go back to the 4th or 5th grade and start your education over again, okay?
So, here we have a spoiled, rotten rich kid who had to suffer through the horrific deaths of both a father and an uncle yet doesn’t seem to know or understand the difference between what’s bad and what’s good in the most obvious and banal use of those words. And he’ll get away with it for two reasons:
First, we all feel guilty about what happened to JFK and RFK. So, we’ll give this grown-up infant some extra leeway when it comes to reacting to how he behaves.
Second, he may not have the bully pulpit that his father and uncle used to share, but he’s got the 21st-century version of the megaphone in the form of the internet and its endless, unquenchable thirst for something, anything that can load itself onto your laptop or your handheld, or your TV if your TV is hooked up to a digital display.
When McLuhan studied the impact of television on American life, he focused on it from the perspective of the viewer, i.e., the consumer of TV content, either in the form of a program of some sort or an ad. But what McLuhan didn’t examine was from the perspective of the people, groups and companies that were creating all that content and competing for the consuming audience that was watching and being entertained or informed by TV.
The difference between radio and television, which were the mediums through which people connected to sources of information and entertainment when McLuhan published his first book in 1966, was that creating and receiving digital content today happens to be one and the same thing. When someone like Robert Kennedy, Jr. gets up at a public rally to warn the crowd about the ‘threat’ of a vaccine mandate, he knows that what he says will go out to a much larger audience who are anxious to immerse themselves in the kind of mis-informed rhetoric that he spouts.
So, Kennedy becomes both the producer and consumer of digital content, which means he can’t control either one. And this lack of control was amply demonstrated in front of the Lincoln Memorial last week when the Proud Boys showed up and announced that they too believed that vaccination mandates were the work of the Devil or the liberal Deep State which is one and the same thing.
What did Kennedy do? He immediately apologized plus his wife chimed in with an apology and a criticism of her husband’s remarks as well. How much do you think their PR firm charged for getting this verbiage out there before more damage would have occurred?
The internet has unleashed a tidal wave of noise and images which nobody has figured out how to control. Too bad Marshall McLuhan isn’t around to explain it all.