Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Emily Bell argues that Donald Trump is a media organization.
The new US President's behavior, according to Bell, can best be compared to that of a "loud, competitive, digitally attuned, populist media organization." During the campaign, numerous media outlets, pundits and commentators suggested that the key motive for Trump to be running for President was to set up his own media empire afterwards.
This may all be true, but it perhaps fails to grasp the significance of the near-complete mediatization of the lifeworld of everyone - not just high-profile people like Donald Trump. We do not live with media anymore - we live in media (and have been for quite a while now).
In media life, everyone is a media organization.
In order to effectively participate in society, we constantly have to market and upgrade ourselves - we have become commodities. In media, we are products catching the attention and attracting demand and customers on a global marketplace where we are "simultaneously, promoters of commodities and the commodities they promote” (Zygmunt Bauman in Consuming Life, page 6). No consumer unless a commodity. And the only way to be successful as a commodity, we have to perform upgraded versions of ourselves in perpetuity - in media.
Our homes become mediatized and mediated through AirBnB, our cars via Uber, our bodies through Tinder, our skills with Amazon Mechanical Turk. We publicize the music we listen to via Spotify, the people we talk to through Facebook's news feed, the information we ingest on Twitter and Tumblr, the things we see on Instagram, and the places we visit by checking in - everywhere.
In doing so - whether voluntary or not - we participate in a near-perfect Panoptic prison, where omnoptic surveillance (Bauman would say: Liquid Surveillance) as everyone monitors everyone else is the benchmark for being.
We are all media organizations.
The thing is, Trump is just one of billions of media. And, like all of us, his spot in the flashlights is all too temporary. Sure, he can do more damage than most of us. But we all have Communication Power too. The question is not how to fight this, to unplug, or to surrender. At issue is how we will be (in) media both ethically and aesthetically.
For me, this is a renewed take on media literacy - one where we learn to love media, to come to terms with our desires and passions in media, and make sure those feelings contribute to a better, more just world.
One way to do so is to become a zombie (or embrace the fact that we already are), that is:
- Stop caring (and telling stories about) yourself, but focus on the collective, the social.
- Stop looking at society in terms of categories (such as used in the census) in order to compare and contrast, instead consider each other in terms of similarity, remixed and remixable.
- Embrace your passions (just let no authority, whether economic or political, ever exploit you for doing what you love) while accepting they may lead to nothing. Perhaps they are truly worthwhile only of they lead to nothing.
This is what zombies do: they do not care about categories - there are no distinctions between young and old zombies, black or white zombies, rich or poor zombies. Heck, zombies do not even recognize leaders or hierarchies. Zombies have a unique kind of zombie sociality, where they both are in it for themselves yet always seek out others to tag along and team up with. And finally: zombies are undeniably passionately driven at what they do. And when they are done and have won - zombies will always win out in the end - what do they do? Nothing.
The solution for a world where we are all media organizations now is not an all-out war against fake news, post-truth politics, and fact-free journalism. Sure, all of these wars are noble endeavors.
However, our reality is now a media reality - one that we are all authors of. So perhaps it is not so much a renewed reliance on society's expert truth-tellers (such as quality news media, librarians and educators) that we should strive for, but rather a particular set of skills (that we should acquire and hone over a long career) that make us a nightmare to people like Donald Trump: skills to tell different, and better stories.