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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Certain images have been written forever on minds. One example is the New York Times’ picture of an American sailor kissing a total stranger amidst the joyous crowd celebrating the end of World Two. In contrast, we have the electronic image of Donald Trump blatantly removing his mask in Washington while a pandemic ravages his country.
Trump is no stranger to the media. He knows how to use all forms to get reelected at any cost. It is therefore incumbent on us to understand the effect of Trump’s use of the electronic media on us. How do we do this?
First, we must bounce Trump off media guru, and visionary Marshal McLuhan, 1911-1980. In Understanding Media (1964), McLuhan coined an infamous way of how radio and TV affect us differently. Radio has an intensifying effect because it appeals only to hearing. Hence radio is “hot.” In contrast, a TV image is “cool.” A multiple sense effect pulls us into (involves us) into the image or program. The next time you try to talk to someone watching TV, notice you can not reach them.
But what has this media theory to do with Donald Trump? When he removed that mask for the electronic media, he drew us in. I doubt if Trump would know about McLuhan’s “hot and cool” theory, but Trump did know what he was doing. In other words, the electronic media in this unmasking was anything but neutral: Trump was manipulating us.
To understand better the effect of Trump’s act, we again delve into history. The telecast of Kennedy’s death was cool media-not meaning the event was happy but involving: we and CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite shed tears.
We doubt if any tears were shed at Trump’s media events, but let us be aware of the manipulative effect of Trump’s electronic images on us.
Second, let us consider Trump and Twitter. Like Facebook, and Instagram, Twitter is a social media platform that Jack Dorsey and others developed out of the internet. But let us hypothesize what McLuhan might say about Twitter which would intrigue him. He’d likely say Twitter is a “cool” hybrid media. Relying on print he might say Twitter is hot, but this interpretation limits how Twitter functions because it involves the user in a far more radical way. The user can shape the message; this thought brings us back to Trump.
Trump uses Twitter not just to inform us, but to alter our perception of the truth. Twitter has done wonders like helping to find lost children, but some of Trump’s tweets have become Orwellian brainwashing. In a sense, he has weaponized the media- print and electronic- to get reelected despite the pandemic.
In sum we must discern very carefully the effect of Trump’s use of media. This attitude will ensure that the media is not our master, but our servant.
Bernard J. Callaghan is a retired teacher and writer living in Charlottetown.