Online Edition: Summer 2005

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Mediated

How Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live In It

Thomas de Zengotita

Bloomsbury Books ($22.95)

by Weston Cutter

Thomas de Zengotita's Mediated will fundamentally rework the way you see the world, which may in turn lead to fundamental reworkings of how you live in it. Perhaps the easiest way to describe what de Zengotita means by "mediated" is to say that everything in the world--every car color, perfume scent, and variety of corn chip—is there for you: The world as presented to us by media revolves entirely around us consumers. Couple this with the fact that everything operates simultaneously as thing and as representative—there's McDonald's, the actual place where you can buy fries that taste the same in Minneapolis and Madrid, and there's "McDonald's," which is the fact of McDonald's in the world—and de Zengotita's argument becomes clearer: there's nothing that isn't mediated. For example, when you're introduced to someone and you shake their hand to meet them, you also meet yourself meeting them—you mentally gauge yourself, the firmness of your grip, and if your smile is that perfectly practiced mix of earnestness and wisdom you've seen so often in the media.

De Zengotita, a contributing editor at Harper's, is probably the best mass media critic out there, if for no reason other than that he's simultaneously dead serious, funny as hell, and he actually uses vulgar language in the truest sense. He uses "like" in the way you and I use "like" (as in, like, a lot), and he begins sentences that become questions halfway through. His writing never gets mired in academic terms, never makes you feel like if you missed the Ph.D. train, you'll probably miss his point, too. Best of all, de Zengotita wonderfully refuses to allow that there's some simple, clear way out of this; as he carefully articulates, there are few scenarios other than emergency or chaos that can snap us from our bubble of mediation (and sometimes not even then—when we respond to the late-night, desperate phone call, is our response informed by all the late-night, desperate phone calls we've seen on television?). His conclusion especially is not the self-congratulatory closure that our mediated selves desire—which is, of course, precisely de Zengotita's point.

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