The world of our direct experience continues to be dwarfed by the realm of media.
Among the underground youth of the Northwest as well as in my own generation, what doesnt seem to have yet factored into much of anybodys descriptions of alienation is the cumulative effect of living in an environment where whats considered important is always whats on the other side of the screen. It seems to us only natural to look to the media to expand our scope and range. They do, after all, put us in contact with things we would not otherwise be aware of. And people have always yearned for broader horizonsfor something beyond their own limited personal experience. When America was primarily a nation of small towns, our sense of what constituted the broader world was very literal and geographical: it was whatever was over the next hill or around the next bend in the road. The distinction of having been somewhere and seen more than average folks was what gave traveling salesmen a certain aura.
The sense of representing a bigger world also gave cities a special franchise on the public imagination. We expected tastes and levels of sophistication to be higher in the cities. If you were in, say, Chicago or New York, you felt youd made it to the big timeNowadays, the bigger world that people dream about is one that is imagined to exist on the other side of our television and movie screens. There is a pervasive sense of How can you matter, if youre not in the media? Everybody who is anybody seems to be there. Corporate executives, once a reticent and camera-shy lot, now work to project a compelling presence in the business press. Even once-obscure civil servants, like the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have learned to come across in an effective and telegenic way when discussing their endeavors on the Today show. The net effect of our contemporary media-centrism seems to be that where once you might feel like a boring nobody because you werent in the city, today youre more likely to feel like a boring nobody because you dont appear in the media.
Unfortunately for the vast majority of us, its a lot harder to appear in the media than it is to get to the city.How much is this low likelihood of ever entering into the new realm of significance responsible for a vague but widespread and persistent sense of being on the outside looking in?
(c) COPYRIGHT 2000 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.