MEDIAWORLD: Programming the Public by John M. Phelan

MEDIAWORLD: Programming the Public

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Some of the more demonstrable charges in Phelan's heavy-laden indictment of the media's distortions of ""issues""--and indeed of all public life--were spelled out in Ron Powers' punchier The Newscasters (p. 474). Instead of monitoring the 6:00 o'clock news, Phelan, a professor of communications at Fordham, has been brooding over John Stuart Mill, Harold Lasswell, and Jacques Ellul; the result is a turgid theoretical condemnation of what Phelan unhappily terms ""melodoxy"" (from the Greek roots of melodrama and orthodoxy). The long-suffering will be apprised that media technology, mass production, and distribution have killed political debate as J.S.M. knew it, turned issues into ""topics"" or ""products,"" and metamorphized the public into a passive ""audience."" Phelan perceives ""propaganda and pornography as the endpoints toward which all forms of modernizing media tend."" This is an extreme statement which does not easily follow from Phelan's distaste for 60-second commercials, the ""formulas"" of popular culture's best-sellers, or even his apprehensions about the dissolution of folk- and high-culture communities. The assertion that mass media created a surrogate community is hackneyed; Phelan gives it a peculiarly nasty twist, as he conjures up a society of ""conforming clones"" programmed for using ""the mental modules of media lore"" which render experience counterfeit. A final chapter wafts the hopeful note that ""almost all forms of organization bear the seeds of their own destruction."" Meanwhile the boobs will cling to their tubes.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1977
Publisher: Seabury