Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Olbermann, Maddow, and Progressive Premediation

I have focused much of my discussion of premediation on its negative uses by the Bush Administration, or the print, networked, and televisual news media, or more recently the McCain-Palin campaign.  But premediation can also work as a progressive strategy.  Take, for example, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's multi-media assemblage of PowerPoint slideshow, Hollywood feature documentary, website (, book, policy center, audio CD, or educational guide for K-16 teachers.  Gore has brilliantly premediated numerous different but related potential ecological catastrophes that are resulting, and that might result, from global warming (or climate change).  

"An Inconvenient Truth" is but one of the more spectacular instances of a progressive premediated Gesamtkunstwerk--with Neil Young's "Living With War" a less grandiose but perhaps medialogically more self-conscious instance. And then of course there are the more everyday forms of progressive premediation like MSNBC, featuring "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" and the super-smart "Rachel Maddow Show."  What Olbermann's "Countdown" format makes especialy clear, with its ticking clock and its quotidianly apocalyptic orientation to a future that is also each night an end of time, is the way in which the print, televisual, and networked news media have refashioned their temporal orientation from the immediacy of the present or recent past to the virtuality of the present or near future. 

Each news medium, then, aims not only to report on what has just happened or what is happening now but more crucially on what is about to happen (or not) in the future. Different news stories, formats, and programs premediate the news in different ways, working in the process to mobilize readers, viewers, or participants to move towards some particular kinds of futures rather than others.  As I have elsewhere suggested, one of the key ways through which news and other media premediate particular futures is through encouraging or intensifying shared affective and political stances among members of particular collectivities, multitudes, or sociotechnical networks. 

We live today in a media world that is inexorably oriented towards and moving into an array of potential futures, an ecology of media which Niklas Luhmann might describe as a self-regulating system which is repeatedly destabilized by the irritants of new events and which attempts to restabilize itself through the proliferation of premediated futures. Although Luhmann's description of this systemic oscillation between stabilized and destabilized states sounds linear and schematic, this does not have to be the case. If we remember that these oscillations occur simultaneously in multiple sociotechnical and geopolitical sites and in heterogeneous media forms and practices, we can see that Luhmann offers a useful way to make sense of one of the mechanisms through which premediation operates but that his account must be supplemented, as in my understanding it invariably is, with other accounts that take up both questions of individual and collective affect and questions of the agency of assemblages or collectivities of humans and non-humans.

It is safe to say, then, that we watch a progressive network like MSNBC not, as many critics of polemically oriented news networks complain, so that we can learn what we already know, but so that we can in some sense feel what we already feel about the assemblage of humans and non-humans that make up our worlds.  Or, more precisely, we watch or read news in print, televisual, or networked media not only to attune our political affects to the affective states of others but also to attune our affective politics to the issues, positions, and policies either of particular networks, whether CNN, Fox, MSNBC, PBS, or BBC, or increasingly to such individual programs as "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Real Time with Bill Maher," or "Saturday Night Live."  

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