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Do we consume the media, or has the media consumed us?
on 5 September 2010
Social anthropologist Thomas De Zengotita takes on the difficult task in this book of examining and explaining how the media shapes our view of ourselves and society. Divided into 7 chapters, it looks at such areas as the cult of childhood and the trend to nostalgia, the interaction between media and politics (and why scandal is more interesting than policy), and the interaction between home and family life. A coda at the end tackles 9/11 and the obsession with WMD, but as it was written in 2003/2004 it would be interesting to see the section updated to take on board subsequent developments.
It's a fairly accessible read for people who (like me) are completely unfamiliar with the subject, with Zengotita using a lot of examples from contemporary media and events to illustrate his arguments - including 9/11, Harry Potter, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales and the Monica Lewinski scandal - which helps the reader to keep track of his arguments. However there are also times when he brings in elements of media and anthropological theory and philosophy or references the arguments of such figures as Locke and Heidegger with the assumption that the reader will be familiar with the same when this is not the case. To this end it might have been useful to have a further reading list for people interested in pursuing the subject further.
There's a surprising amount of humour in the book and Zengotita uses examples from his own life to help get his points across - my favourite being his account of a drama class he was attending on the day of JFK's assassination, when he and the other students thought that the news of the president's death was a method acting assignment.
Originally published in 2005 and republished in 2007 the book does feel a little dated in terms of some of its examples (which is almost inevitable, given the subject matter) and it would be fascinating to know what Zengotita makes of more recent events - such as the internet campaign used to such great effect by President Obama.
All in all, it's an interesting read and one that does make you re-evaluate how you see the world around you and the extent to which this has been shaped by the media you consume.