I’m currently slogging my way through Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, much of which I, like the academic film dope in Annie Hall, don’t understand at all. What better way to celebrate our favorite TV night (Prison Break, 24) than by quoting from the introduction:
McLuhan notices, correctly, that it is the bad news-reports of sexual scandal, natural disaster, and violent death-that sells the good news-that is, the advertisements. The bad news is the spiel that brings the suckers into the tent. Like the illustrations in a fifth-grade reader, the sequence of scenes on CBS or CNN teaches the late-twentieth-century American catechism: first, at the top of the news, the admonitory row of body bags being loaded into ambulances in Brooklyn or south Miami; second, the inferno of tenement fires and bumming warehouses; third, a sullen procession of criminals arraigned for robbery or murder and led away in chains. The text of the day’s lesson having been thus established, the camera makes its happy return to the always smiling anchorwoman, and so-with her gracious permission-to the previews of heaven sponsored by Delta Airlines, Calvin Klein, and the State Farm Insurance companies. The homily is as plain as a medieval morality play or the bloodstains on Don Johnson’s Armani suit–0bey the law, pay your taxes, speak politely to the police officer, and you go to the Virgin Islands on the American Express card. Disobey the law, neglect your insurance payments, speak rudely to the police, and you go to Kings County Hospital in a body bag.