The Medum is the Message
Here's the saddest thing about the discussion I prompted over at Echidne's place: the acceptance that PR, be it in the form of press releases or press conferences or public announcements or appearances on TV, provides valuable and useful information that is otherwise unavailable. It's the assumption that PR really matters.
But when all is said and done, PR is just PR.
Press releases and press appearances and even press conferences are no substitute for real information, but we seem to assume that they are, that PR is not only truly valuable, but the only thing of value. How else to interpret this comment at olvzl's post:
The complaint is that these individuals and organizations don't get heard. The question is not who's responsible for the information, the one purveying it or the one consuming it. The issue is a practical one about perception. Most people are lazy when it comes to researching the world around them. This puts the practical onus on the entity with something to say.But why is any of that information of any value in the first place? Pat Robertson offers no real pastoral counseling through a television camera. Joel Osteen does not conduct theological seminars. James Dobson doesn't discuss the complexities of family dynamics to a radio audience. What they do is advertise themselves, and what they have to sell. Which is fine, but that's all they do and all they are: they are in the advertising business, and what they have to sell are a few hoary cliches and well-worn ideas as smooth and inoffensive, if less decorative and functional, as river stones. The only riposte to them are the hoary cliches that, say, Jim Wallis pedals. There is nothing of value that can be said in even a 10 minute interview with Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart, much less that can be condensed into soundbite suitable for the evening news or a bumper sticker.
It's not that centrist or liberal Xian organizations don't exist, it's that they don't get heard. That's their own fault and it's to their own detriment. They should not be merely issuing press releases or official statements. They should be shouting down, making loud and angry sermons about how an irresponsible minority is making them look downright evil. They should be forming coalitions to approach media outlets, corporations and political organizations and insisting that their voice be heard. They should be holding large protests and scrambling for media coverage.
It's not, of course, an entirely new question.
Every time I look at youThere is a reason Jesus came as the son of a peasant (a carpenter, if that's what Joseph was, was not a middle class figure and member of a union. Carpenters were tradesman, which meant they didn't even own land and livestock. They had to provide for their family from what they could make, on commission. There was no market as we imagine it today. Almost all trade was done by connection to a patron, not by contract and capital. If Joseph was a carpenter, Jesus grew up miserably poor.), and it had to do with his message. There is a reason Jesus spoke primarily to Jews, and only rarely spoke directly to Gentiles. There is a reason Jesus didn't seek any of the methods of "mass communication" which were available in 4th century Rome: because those means were the same means we have today, and they served the same purpose. As Dom Crossan explains it:
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached the whole nation
Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication
The Roman Empire was based on the common principle of peace through victory, or, more fully, on a faith in the sequence of piety, war, victory, and peace.How did Rome do this? Simple imagery, mainly:
Paul was a Jewish visionary following in Jesus' footsteps, and they both claimed that the Kingdom of God was already present and operative in this world. He opposed the mantras of Roman normalcy with a vision of peace through justice, or, more fully, with a faith in the sequence of covenant, nonviolence, justice, and peace.
A coin of Julius Caesar shows his spirit descending cometlike to takes it place among the eternal deities. A coin of Augustus Caesar calls him divi filius, son of a divine one, son of a god, son of the aforesaid comet. A coin of Tiberius Caesar hails him as pontifex maximuis, supreme bridge builder between earth and heaven, high priest of an imperial people. A silver denarius was a day's pay for a laborer and, if a day laborer meant somebody who worked every day rather than somebody who looked for work every day, it would have been a very good salary. Imagine this situation: If, after three days of hard work, a day laborer held those silver denarii in his hand, how would he, could he, should he distinguish between politics and religion in the Roman Empire?....Crossan also discusses Roman public art, which reinforced the military superiority and moral virtue of Rome, as well as the domestic pieties which defined Roman civilization and justified the nature of its existence as preferred by the gods. That's what mass communication is for: reinforcement of conventional wisdom and accepted opinions which serve to reinforce the power structure that prevails. It is, to be fair, something the church has participated in, and in which is still participates; which is why I resent ad campaigns and public pronouncements by church judicatories, especially since the opinions expressed may not be the opinions of all persons sitting in the pews, and then that raises another question: who is the church?
A proper question, because the emphasis in "mass communication" is on the "mass," not on the "communication." Whatever goes down smoothly, easily, in anodyne form, is best. I know it is outrageous when political conservatives take to the public airwaves and spout blatant if unimportant lies, but they are merely turning the tactics of left blogistan against the bloggers. That is, they are engaged in the mass dissemination of facts. But facts, and their facts? They may not be entitled to "their" facts, but complaining about the distortions of mass communication does not correct those distortions, any more than more "mass communication' does. Where all that matters is who has the megaphone and how repititious they are, facts never get in the way of a good idea. The mass dissemination of false information is still "mass communication;" it's just not the communication you might want it to be. Or, as the old adage has it: "A lie is halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its boots." And more mass communication doesn't stop that, or even block it.
Consider this, for one example: did Christian churches begin to recognize that gays and lesbians and the transgendered were their brethren because of "mass communication," or because of personal communications? Because the idea spread on cable TeeVee and talk radio, or because it spread from person to person?
How is the truth, and wisdom, and the values of true religion, spread? By mass movements? By advertisements or 10 minute interviews where half that time is spent asking questions and none of it spent listening to the answers? Or by changing one heart, which learns those values and truth and wisdom, from another heart?
As Jesus said: "Those who have ears had better listen." And he didn't say it into a microphone.