The Mass Media Is Over

For a brief period of time after the development of the radio, when enormous central governments carefully regulated access to airwaves and wires, a small number of media organizations came to dominate culture. Whereas in previous eras, religious organizations were the only ones with the level of capital, organization, and manpower to influence culture internationally, once the mass media came into play, those organizations supplanted religions.

To the extent that modern man is a mediated person, previous generations of men were relig-iated — every aspect of their lives was understood by them in reference to their religion, whereas now, every aspect of most people’s lives and identities is understood through their media consumption habits.

Since the deregulation of the media that began with the emergence of cable television and accelerated with the spread of the internet, the former era in which the power of the press was paramount has come to an end, and has indeed already ended for younger demographics, who get most of their news through personalized feeds over their mobile phones.

The key word in ‘mass media’ is ‘mass,’ lower-case m, to distinguish it from the upper-case-M-Mass, although it performs a similar function, in a more mundane way. People attend Mass to come into communion with the universal church, but they subscribe to a mass media publication to come into communion with the other subscribers. The best way that I’ve heard someone describe how to run a good magazine is to run it like you would run a cult, and treat the subscribers as if they are a special sort of person with certain attitudes and something in common with the other subscribers.

In some cases, the type of person that the magazine wants you to be is right there in the title: Playboy is for playboys, Gentleman’s Quarterly is for gentlemen, and the New Yorker for for people who are New Yorkers in spirit if not in residence.

With the fracturing of radio, television, and written media into millions upon millions of channels, we’re returning to an earlier era of non-mass-media, in which you can never be in communion with anyone else just by being a subscriber to the New York Times — because you probably only read the occasional article, rather than the entire publication, and your reading habits are going to be entirely unique to you rather than to your social group.

The ads in an online publication also tend to be tailored to the person viewing them: even when someone buys an online ad in the New York Times, they can easily elect to only have it displayed to people of a certain gender or age range. If social convention and the law allowed it, they could probably target only Mormons or exclude reform Jews who have not been to synagogue in the last three years.

For this reason, the mass media finds itself in crisis, because it no longer performs the same social function that it once did. If before, it resembled a sermon — people of previous times often refer to getting the newspaper with breakfast as part of a ‘morning ritual’ — it now resembles something else entirely, with each parishioner receiving a different message tailored to them.

Despite this, people still have the same religious impulses as they always have, and are seeking to have them filled in a different way than they once did. People still need to organize themselves, but the prestige media is no longer capable of performing that function at scale.

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6 Comments

  1. “Despite this, people still have the same religious impulses as they always have, and are seeking to have them filled in a different way than they once did.”

    Implication could be that NRx is a religious group. SJWs are a religious group. Furries are a religious group. Bronies are a religious group etc

  2. my breakfast ritual is internet neo rx writers, along with doomers, 4GW writers, etc. not sure if it is cheaper than fishwrap subscriptions, but is a lot more interesting, in a “darkly” enlightening sort of way… and my daily conversations get a lot more “interesting” with those who still watch tv.

  3. The narrative, of mass media losing control of the narrative, makes perfect sense… and yet… Cthulu swims lefter than ever. How can this be?

    1. ‘Access journalism,’ while sometimes exposed with respect to politicians and lobbyists, is very rarely exposed when a State Department desk officer’s memo’s narrative is planted on the front page with no dissenting opinions.
      Though Buzzfeed and Upworthy provide communion for the SWPL class, they aren’t chummy with those directly ruling (i.e. bureaucrats), whereas the mass media personages are.

    2. Leftism = chaos. The mass media was acting as a stabilizing element for Establishment politics, and in that sense can be seen as relatively right.

  4. I’m sure I showed this to you at some point, but there’s an article at Gigaom from a while back that touched on this. Basically, it says that the era of monopolistic mass media was a blip, which is now over. That doesn’t mean that mass media is going to disappear or even stop being influential anytime soon, though. Fred Reed talks about this in his latest. Basically, what he postulates (and I agree) is that media will bifurcate into two tiers. Mass media will be for the proles and low middlebrows, whereas genuine intellectuals will seek each other out on the web and communicate through smaller venues that neither need nor even really want to have mass appeal. To quote Fred:

    “The future? Good question. A reasonable guess: We will see growing global intellectual electro-Balkanization. Declining circulation of newspapers as fewer see any reason to read them. The separation of people and state. Television becoming even more of a cultural slum, if that is possible. Decreasing ability of the guberno-media complex (I actually said that, didn’t I?) to control opinion. Because of lateral communication, growing ability of voiceless groups to realize that they are numerous and have interests in common. It’s a new ball game.”

    Indeed it is.

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