Why I want to create a new Medium
In the final decade of the 19th Century, the Gilded Age had put in bold relief a detestable gap in people’s fortunes and thus provoked a monumental response. There was a remarkable handful of individuals, who, each in their own way, created a new medium, through which their rare insights and deep compassion could enable an entire population to embrace a more humane and fulfilling framework, on which to base a more genuine “society”. Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph Kepler and Jakob Riis, were all revolutionaries of a sort, and for some reason, they also did it within a stone’s throw of each other, and at around the same time. Might creativity and courage be infectious, but in a good way, like laughter?
Since mere words no longer sufficed to reach into our collective consciousness, they were driven to create an entirely new language, a new path into our brains. Each person found that those who were responsible for our common welfare, the classic politician and businessman, to have failed in a prime mission, to enable our free, honest and open communication and ability to take action relative to our own welfare. At a time, which was not entirely dissimilar to our own, instead of our version of a new medium, “social media”, in one case, immigrant artist Kepler, at PUCK, invented both the comic book and the modern magazine, while aiming his barbs at corruption and greed. Across the street, police reporter and photographer, Jakob Riis, exposed street urchins and grimy lodging houses with such brutal realism, that documentary photography began opening up the invisible world’s quiet suffering, to the healing light of popular awareness, everywhere.
There is a tradition that goes back at least a century or so, but probably some Millennia, that revolutions in consciousness can be provoked, when we are able to experience new and deeper means of communication, especially as regards our common conditions and why they must be made better. When we find ourselves at odds, due to the sharp contrasts that exist between the fortunes of various populations, we are driven to find creative ways to plunge the general population into greater awareness. Troubadours and poets know about this. Our natural resistance to un-needed change, the unwillingness to poke the sleeping dog, often casts us into long periods during which few improvements in our condition take place. Waking a sleeping population takes great effort and creativity, due to our tendency to ignore what we’ve heard or read before and which has now faded into the background, due to its over-familiarity.
When Tesla invented the radio, one of his goals was to enhance the likelihood that insights and truth would have an easier time reaching the public. (His contributions were also critical to the development of TV as well). It is not his fault that electronic media has become the home of so much drivel and dangerous propaganda. He was interested in distributing the ability of the many to reach one another, which thereby diluted the power of those few who could exercise any influence in this realm. Rush Limbaugh was not on his mind, nor was porn (he was kind of sexless), but his close friendship with Mark Twain was partially on account of their philosophical agreement, as regards so many people’s low status and the unfairness and un-acceptability of this situation.
Twain was famously on the front lines of the struggle to provide everyone, especially dis-enfranchised peoples, with their full measure of life’s rewards. I would suggest that the medium he invented was stand-up comedy. No matter how influential Tesla was in his creation of wireless communication and electronic media, the use of that medium by our late-night TV hosts is currently the most powerful and important use of these media today. They are all today’s Twains, albeit bolstered by teams of clever keepers of his flame. Exposing the ridiculous nature of so-called conventional reality, especially as it relates to politics, is pure PUCK and Twain too. Nothing punctures official pomposity and stupidity like a well-turned punch line or great political cartoon.
The seriousness of Jacob Riis’ exposes of official misconduct made a big difference, after his book “How the other half lives” gained such popularity that political leaders were forced to enact innumerable reforms, in various aspects of many lives, at that time. Airless apartments got airshafts. Laws forbade child labor and other abuses. The illustrations that had festooned printed publications since their birth was gone, in favor of graphic images that could not be denied or looked away from. Although fans of George Grosz, Toles, or Herblock might disagree, it was difficult at that time for a drawn picture to have the impact of the unexpected arrival of a real image, of real people, under real conditions, all of which had remained from half to fully-hidden, forever. For all of their wide exposure through newspapers to the public, some of the strongest impacts of his work came from its effect on the Police Commissioner, sent to clean up the New York City department from the depths of corruption it then embodied, Theodore Roosevelt.
When he coined the term “Progressive” one of the things he meant was that he had listened to his good friend, Riis, and accepted into his world the dis-enfranchised, forgotten, and miserable, the poor, as worthy of his attentions. He was an aristocrat who, by becoming the symbol of anti-corruption and un-corruptibility, was fated to carry some pretty radical ideas for their time into the politics of a basically very establishment-favorable political system. He had to have read PUCK regularly too, where he was a favorite subject for their cover art, and be impressed by the strict ethical standards to which they were wont to hold top officials. He invented a new political party, partly so he could do some of the cleanings up at the Federal level that he had been inspired to do while in the City.
Nobody regards TR as perfect. He also wanted to jail some political cartoonists with whom he disagreed during WWI, in spite of his love affair with PUCK. Heroes are usually complicated individuals with some incidents that they would prefer being forgotten but that is getting harder all the time. The question now is: What can the new Medium be, that will help the most, to widen our appreciation for one another and the gifts we have been provided with and can simultaneously serve to make the distribution of those goods more in keeping with the traditions and ideals that we outline in our pronouncements?
I think that the answer is in how we interact with one another, in the decision-making process that affects our day-to-day lives the most directly. This means a constant flow of information and opinions that resembles a giant score-board of points and counter-points. Finding a way to measure when consensus has been reached on any given issue is paramount and must be determined using the same process. The Rules of the Game are not set in stone yet and the fewer of them the better. The Ten Commandments are to be admired as much for their value as rules to live by as for their conciseness and clarity, lack of ambiguity, or room for hedging.
If we can agree on one thing, maybe we can agree on almost everything. In fact, there is little, beyond maybe abortion and the death sentence, which is not available to open disagreement, without rancor, today. What is the Forum for the conversation, is a good question. There is already no substantial disagreement on a host of issues. Start with potable water. Without it, we are dead or at least pretty sick. We can not live without it for very long. A lot of it has already been badly polluted and many of the rules regarding the poisoning of it with toxic substances have recently been weakened or eliminated altogether. Flint and Newark are in trouble and they are not the only ones. Our primary answer is to fill the oceans with little plastic bottles. You can buy them for less than a quarter wholesale so they are a popular item to merchants who can sometimes get $2 a bottle. They only cost a few pennies to manufacture.
When Earth Day was in NYC some years ago the bottlers of water were the sponsors. The message was essentially ”Don’t worry. Even if all of our regular water sources are deadly, we have secured a few of the remaining clean ones and we’ll keep you supplied indefinitely”. In other words, environmentalism is a plot by the elites to poison your resources and then make certain they have their own, while they kill the oceans as a bonus. We have allowed Evil to prevail in some aspects of our lives and most everybody knows it and agrees that this is no way to run a world. If we could take on the subject of water, bring everybody into the discussion, quiet the influence of Nestle and Pepsi, etc. and have this discussion ourselves, expose the economics and perhaps come to an agreement of what must be done and how we are on our way to figuring everything else out. May the Forum (not the Roman or Penthouse one) begin. Let students get course credit for it and let those under 18 be the decision-makers, give the heaviest influence to the little kids who will be most affected by these decisions. Turn this world on its head.
Super-Nationalism keeps us from looking beyond our borders to Europeans or Asians, Africans, or Latinos, for the answers that they may have already found, to problems that we have not even identified yet, much less confronted. It is as though Americans are a different race and we can practice a form of Racism by simply claiming that anything which is not American is not entirely real and should thus be shunned or ignored. Even though we all came from somewhere else and could even have innumerable relatives there, it doesn’t exist. This is an aspect of denying what we did to the inhabitants of this land when we murdered them, so we could have it for ourselves.
If these abused populations ever acquired a powerful enough weapon and adopted our methods, perhaps we would be evicted from our lush estates and maybe, if we behaved, let into certain ”reservations” occasionally, so we could hunt there and pay dearly for our prey. Our contempt for “others” of every description is described as a form of pride, perhaps a bit excessive, but basically healthy, home-team ardor. This form of “branding” though is a big part of world history and a lot of blood has been shed to keep its franchises going. Empires come and go but they often leave scars that may never heal.
We have long contended that we are all and everything, and everybody else should simply be like us if they want to be cool. Our music and movies have had a pretty strong influence on various cultures around the world, at various times, but it is being widely agreed that colonialism, military or cultural, is way out-dated. While there is still too much imitation and pandering, experimentation and originality are beginning to matter much more. Lately, though, we have been sent into the abyss by our unfortunate response to the Pandemic and recent widespread realizations regarding the economic and racial divides that dominate our culture and many others. American football features military-like formations and plays described in terms of combat-like encounters with hand-launched missiles and vicious tackles, whereas the soccer being played everywhere else is done in shorts, instead of plastic armor, and unique plays and shifting roles are favored over mechanical efficiency. We are moving from envied to pariah in a flash.
Is one style better than another? Does beating the other guy take precedence over appreciating their skill and class? I have heard that in Japanese baseball the perfect score is 1-1 so nobody feels bad about losing. Probably it is no longer true, as they have adopted so many of our standards and sensibilities but we lean so heavily on competition as an ideal and then end up enabling some monopoly to crush any semblance of it because we get a little better deal at the mall or on the internet than we do from the local person, sweating out their too-high rent. Is this the society we want?
Empty stores and bulging larders, filled with stuff we don’t need because we think somebody is measuring us by the size of that load? There is no question that friendly rivalry can motivate and add pleasure to any experience. This ignores the question of whether it is worth the pain that is inevitably suffered by those who don’t make the cut or are left feeling terrible. Biology may end up having a huge influence on your success in reaching your goals in life, but why tilt the table even more? This is little more than a case of the “winners”, mostly trust-fund babies, being determined to cement their advantages, often at the expense of everybody else. This is a mindless continuation of the system of rigid, stratified social roles, that an unexamined history has provided us.
We were told, that sharing leads to unwanted pregnancy and Communism. So we supported great armies, at incredible expense, to help maintain a status quo that pleased almost nobody, but meant we could all get by. We are in a not-quite-post-monarchical society, where celebrities stand-in for royalty and the fact that 2/3 of the money belongs to people who did nothing to earn it, except being born well-off, is becoming more and more of an impediment to a just society.
We have too much of everything, except the willingness to admit that our addiction to status is keeping us from making the changes needed, to enable us to enjoy the fruits of our lives fully. That cannot happen if anybody wakes up hungry when there is too much food. It can not happen if anybody can not find a source of healthful water within their reach and which does not make them complicit in the fouling of their own nest.
So let the conversation begin. It doesn’t matter what it is called. Maybe it is better if it has no name. For that matter, it can do without “leaders” too and the Seashell or other symbol of a temporary spokesperson can stand in for Big Brother’s oversized microphone. There is too much common sense afoot for us not to be able to right this wreck and put it back into service. We were willing to allow our representatives to take care of our situation, but we have learned that they are too easily swayed, by the most influential voices, and the general welfare soon disappears under layers of time that have already been lost. We are all going to become sick and die someday since we are human but that should not mean that we must tolerate the degree of pain, which so many are forced to endure during their lives, because we have not yet confronted the centuries-old discrepancies, that persist to this day, in our access to this world’s gifts.
There are those who are afraid that this surrender to entitlement will leave many individuals unwilling to do anything that will benefit anybody else, since we have already been provided with whatever we most need, without having to give anything back in exchange. I say that we have not even begun to understand what we are really capable of doing, and becoming, and giving to others because we have never been given credit for being able to do that in our history. These gears may be a little rusty, but nobody can say that they are not still engaged, and ready to roll, on our own behalf. We have been given a shrunken version of who we are because we are much easier to manage that way. We really have no idea of what genius is being discarded continuously.
If we make certain that the weakest, the youngest and the oldest, the disabled, and those most at service of their hormones, are given the most support, we are on our way to accepting our own weaknesses and how much we could benefit from the care and concern of others. Pride and humility are not opposites and, in fact, one is impossible without the other. Our talents are considerable, in some ways unlimited, once we have cast off the shackle of having to compare ourselves with others.
We can make ourselves proud, by shedding the limitations that have been placed on our perceptions and get about the task of growing our awareness exponentially. We can make sure that all voices are heard and the health of our neighbors becomes as important as our own, and it doesn’t matter whether you like them or not. Nobody said it would be easy, but the alternative, maintaining the status quo forever, is unacceptable and unattainable. We are following a trail of crumbs that leads over a cliff and there is no excuse anymore for not finding the path on this terra firma that can lead us all to a fresh drink of water. After that, we can try to figure out how to get ourselves something nutritious to eat.