Eye Level

Years ago, when I worked in Giverny as a volunteer at the Musée Claude Monet, one of my jobs was to stock the post cards. Having learned in my prior career as a lawn mower to occupy my mind during monotonous tasks, the job served splendidly for a social experiment. Without claiming much in the way of scientific rigor, it may be reported generally that the cards that sold were those at eye level. It didn't seem to matter much which paintings went where. Eye level emptied first. There were a few exceptions to this sobering state of affairs. But the experience impressed on me the facile manipulability of image consumers. By extension, one may assume that the rack packers at ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, CNN, MTV, ad naseum, bank on similar tendencies, as they peddle their interchangable filler materials between advertisments.

Needless to say, the power to determine what comes before the public gaze is coveted. In the advanced industrialized nations, the appearance of the internet has jostled the spinmeisters who have led with bread and circus. But it would be an avowal of geeky-faith to claim more than this. For it has become apparent that suppremacy in print, television, and radio -- not to mention corrupt political influence -- constitutes effective supremecy of the Internet. How else would one interpret the astronomical "hit" totals generated at sites like CNN.com and NFL.com? Likewise, institutions like Altavista, Yahoo, and Excite (all of which offer key-word search engines for the WWW), which represent new poles of influence in directing public attention, have quickly been folded into the operations of the largest media corporations.

Without denying the emergence of thousands of special interest web sites, and without ignoring that the "new media" offer numerous possibilities for ideological warriors equipped to exploit them; why not resist the broken record of optimistic prognosis that blares from all quarters in the wired world? Enough of the mythology of internet anarchy! The tale is no longer credible.

This does not mean "the internet is bad," or that artists and intellectuals should turn inward and away from the networked gaze. Simply that audiences will continue to be conditioned from the first by the corporate designs of the window makers. Their fantastic stained glass, that leads ultimately into the bowels of their product catalog databases, leaves few messages unfiltered. Is it really necessary to detail the abusive history of Microsoft? The bottom line is that MS-NBC, and all the MS-media-entertainment organs, deliver whatever they want and create the technical means to insure that others don't compete.

The depletion of competition in the newspaper markets around the U.S. is well known. The merger, in the early 80s, of the supposedly "liberal" Detroit Free Press and the "conservative" Detroit News into a single newspaper, was emblematic of this era of diminishing news alternatives. Still the assault continues. Driven by obscure imperatives to repress small newspapers, cities officials around the U.S. have begun restricting newspaper boxes. These sales points are being attacked as aesthetically displeasing and as "safety hazards." But anyone familiar with healthier, competitive newspapers markets abroad can see that the proposed box alternatives will effectively silence local and independent voices. Rather than many boxes, the deputy mayors call (in concert) for one, vertical box. Well, having learned from the post card experiments, we know what that means: those who can finance eye level delivery will have most of the attention.

Eyes trained on the wrong messages has become, for me, a predominant image of media saturated industrial cultures. Wrong because they are messages crafted to serve the interests of the media monopolists who "pack the racks." Wrong because the obsessional patterns of ad-driven broadcasting, with its cyclones of stupidity (OJ, Monica Lewinsky), spill so much blood through neglect of important issues that will never reach eye level.