Sunday, August 27, 2006

identity via mediality: text as authorship

"Everything we know we learned from television" – Tom Goodman, TV Columnist, S. F. Chronicle

I'm surprised to discover that 'mediality' isn't in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary (nor in the Collegiate), so I hereby claim the sense of it I'll introduce in a moment.

The word exists already, mostly in a sense related to McLuhanesque appreciation of the centrality of electronic media as medium. That's the environmentality of something's mediality. But the mediality of something isn't primarily its relation to perceiver via a medium, but the ontic character of the thing itself as genuinely not constituted by the medium but merely mediated by it, while being very aware that the reality is otherwise, but getting away with it inasmuch as the self-consciousness of this is masked in the pretense of there being no mask. Mediality belongs to the actor preceived to be not an actor. Mediality is a self-consciously distanced naïve realism whose deliberate pretense of actuality requires perceiver presumption that the speaker, though available via a medium of course, is itself unquestionably genuine independent of its media reality.

The typical instance of this is the candor of a master politician. The excellently hilarious framing of this is Jon Stewart reading the news on The Daily Show or David Letterman interviewing someone on Late Night. It's beyond simulacrum, because that remains unaware of its own reality, like the hologram that doesn't know that it is merely that. Mediality is the hologramicality of presence as not possibly hologrammatic, but with full awareness of its hologramality-preceived-as-not-so. It's playing for keeps in improv, whereby it doesn't easily occur to someone that it's improv. (That it's obvious with a deadpan Jon Stewart or Letterman is the intended comic frame that masks dead-serious comedy, where every break of the comic pretense is just another level of pretense, and the candid interview off set just continues the show as no-longer-show.) The California teen's "as if" allegorizes prime time's "no as about it—no question" in broadly hybridized onticization of As-ness as no As. Really playing for keeps makes cynicism a small time simulacrum of the reality that plays circles around such self-righteous non-players, because mediality can also generate genuine value, in which case the invisibility of mediality dissolves into the genesis, as happens with proffered norms that become genuinely normative; or "art" that becomes canonical art.

Celebrity—a kind of performance art—works because of its implicature of "mere" celebrity masking genuine presence, even when the celebrity is the product (like Paris Hilton, who is famous for being famous). In other words, the mediality there isn't the celebrityness, but the shared difference between celebrity and genuineness behind the makeup. Celebrity works because the consensual sharing of the shallowness of celebrity is exuded by the celebrity especially, as pretense of mere celebrity composed with the audience as hiding the valuable privacy that one's public is dying to witness, but which both public and celebrity tacitly agree belongs to privacy. (Paris Hilton "deserves" fame because a genuine talent that both public and she impute must be behind the highly made up facade that we all know is highly made up.) The mediality of imputed private realm gives validity to the celebrity (who is thereby vulnerable to "invasions" of privacy that undermine an imputed genuiness that was supposedly masked, but turns out to not be there at all).

When this same reality is a presidency that has become dependent on the genuineness of the president (handled by the marketing of genuineness), mediality becomes the power of marketing unassuming ("Aw shucks") power—the power of ideology as mediality of legitimacy (fronting as legitimacy of popularity/celebrity/fame), which shields the real power of the presidency (in the hands of handlers). One has only to see a studious George W. Bush with glasses reading briefing papers to appreciate the cowboy on the stump as worthy of his White House attorney's view that he's the smartest man she ever met. The skill of "W" is the preppie's relentless appreciation of the Texans who are always virtually in his public audience.

The constitutional legitimacy of the presidency is variably sustained (depending on the times) by the mediality of the president in that office. When that power of mediality is more or less unrelated to the real presidency (e.g., Reagan, who was in charge of nothing), then the power of mediality serves the presidency (maybe badly, but also maybe well, as in the case of Gerald Ford after Nixon, who was in charge of nothing, but rescued the presidency). When the power of mediality originates from the real presidency (Eisenhower well, Kennedy well, Johnson pretty well, Nixon badly, Carter well, Bush-I well, and Clinton, well, most times), mediality of the president is genuine and popular support is really legitimate. Mediality is not as such phoniness or simulacrum or con, etc. "Big con" (recall The Sting) is just short of commissive validity in speech acts. Promise (potential) in the promise (act) may stay true. The political campaign may be well remembered. It depends. .

Bush-II never was a legitimate president, but the corporatist league, from the beginning, mastered marketing (from church to Madison Avenue, from 1974 to 1980 onward) so well beyond the Democrats that there has been one Democratic president in the past quarter century: billiant son of a salesman, genius of genuine mediality, still so evident. Bush-I represented the aristocracy of that corporatist league that has now reached its end. I hereby predict that a new Democratic era is near; and globally, a new multilateralism will follow. A renaissance of global development will be the story of the 21st century, establishing a continuity between progressivism of the late 19th and early 20th, the 1950s and early '60s, and the mid-1990s through the turn of the millenium. The corporatist Republican era in America (such an insult to Lincoln) is nearly over, as the Cold War corporation is dying and has no replacement in the wings.

But mediality is part of our social being—divined in the Shakespearean court, as well as by that committee once upon a time doing Genesis, etc.