Some thoughts about “premediation”

In a class discussion earlier this semester, I remarked that I couldn’t understand the 24/7 media coverage bordering on hysteria around Ebola. Tonight, after reading Richard Grusin’s fascinating essay “Premediation” (Criticism, Winter 2004, Vol. 46, No. 1) I am beginning to understand.

Grusin argues that 9/11 — “the first live global media event ever” — was so shocking in its catastrophic scale and surprise factor that it ended the U.S. cultural desire for immediacy.  As much as the U.S. government in declaring the War on Terror vowed America would never be attached again, the media worked to ensure, Grusin states “…the immediacy of the catastrophe, the immediacy of a disaster, could not happen again – because it would always already been premediated.”  He states the media’s goal has become to cover all potential outcomes of major stories, to premediate the future, so that we can’t be blindsided again the way we were on 9/11.

The result is a public that is kept in a perpetual state of anxiety to protect them from experiencing the immediacy of another catastrophe like 9/11.  For me, this gives some insight into the round-the-clock coverage of Ebola, even if it did elicit fear among the public.  For a current example that I believe underscores Grusin’s thesis, one need only turn on the television.  For days American media have been premediating the outcome of the Ferguson, Missouri Grand Jury.  Countless hours have been spent on cable news analyzing every potential outcome, with the dominant narrative being the police offer who shot Michael Brown will not be indicted.  It its premediation of the verdict, the violence sure to come will surprise no one.

Is the Ferguson Grand Jury outcome premediated?

Is the Ferguson Grand Jury outcome premediated?

I was also fascinated by the comparison Grusin makes between the first Gulf War and the strict censorship imposed by the Pentagon, and the lead up and execution of the Iraq invasion and subsequent war in 2003. This is interesting on many levels: first the propaganda effort prior to the invasion that meant the everyone knew war was inevitable; and the military’s use of embedded media to make them part of the war’s narrative.

Beyond Grusin’s premediation thesis, the reading made me think about the consequences of a public in a perpetual state of anxiety, created primarily by the media.  This is consistent with the “power and resistance” narrative articulated by Joshua Meyrowtiz in the essay “Power, Pleasure, Patterns: Intersecting Narratives of Media Influence” also assigned this week. (Journal of Communication, 58 (208).  It also made me think about the impact that a platform like Twitter has on remediation/premediation.  It definitely makes me want to drill deeper into the subject.

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2 thoughts on “Some thoughts about “premediation”

  1. Barry, the same thought was occurring to me as I was reading it and it jives back with the first reading (the one as a Google book) on mass media and their desire to build an audience for ratings. If you look as well at how CNN covered the disappearance of the Malaysian airlines, they chose to treat it with 24/7 coverage of pseudo experts hypothesizing and predicting and speculating….none of which was news and none of which was able to be verified. It was a bit of a risk on the part of CNN, but it paid off with their ratings. So then you have to look at what is within the audience that drives them to watch endless hours of speculatio, and to your point, it is the anxiety culture that is being created by mass media and the necessity to premediate, remediate and mediate everything that is in our lives, for all three reasons outlined by Joshua Meyrowitz article about the narratives of media influence. The media are trying to retain their power positions for audience-share and revenue (power); the audience is somehow finding pleasure in watching others’ pain and misfortune (pleasure) and the types of media that deliver these messages (television, twitter, etc.) all speak to the real-time patterns narrative he describes. All of this, of course, feeds those pj-wearing “this-is-not-really-a-couch” post modernists, who are likely enjoying a hearty “I told you so” right about now.

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  2. Very true. I hadn’t thought about it in the context of the Meyrowitz article, and in particular the audience finding pleasure in watching others’ pain and misfortune. Sadly this has been an element of the human condition since the dawn on time. We just throw people to the lions in more modern ways.

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