by Owen White, TN
I agree with much that Fr. George writes. I think the use of this medium opens some dangerous doors. A brief articulation of one danger is mentioned here:
That said, I am not so sure that OCAnews would fall under McLuhan’s disfavor in the manner Fr. George suggests.
I, for one, think that the media form here brings about some unfortunate consequences, and many good consequences, but as I am not a utilitarian, I judge the worth of the media form here by other standards.
McLuhan’s writings regarding the use of media before, during, and after Vietnam show that he knew full well how the new media of the day helped to bring a beginning and an end to that war, and all of the complexities involved with the distortion of truth on all sides with regard to the conflict. After the war McLuhan vigorously defended free speech rights with regard to new media, he was against most ‘intellectual property’ schemes having to do with new media, as well as taking a libertarian almost to the point of anarchist position with regard to how new media should be monitored by the state.
Among his bigger concerns was how new media was being controlled and manipulated by large corporations and the state. Basically, McLuhan felt that new media was going to happen - the best responses socially would be to get as many as possible to recognize the effects of new media on human consciousness, to create as much media diversity as possible so that one form of mental ‘massage’ did not take a complete hold of the culture, and to out mechanisms of control in the new media whenever we see them. McLuhan also engaged in a bit of ridicule of new media forms, and he regularly parsed them (see the excellent "The Mechanical Bride" for instance). I would love to see a McLuhan style analysis of both OCAnews and the Antiochian Archdiocesan website.
One of McLuhan’s chief concerns was what a given use of a media form said about those meant to be the consumers of that form. I would venture to say that McLuhan would be far more concerned about those who turned to the Antiochian Archdiocese’s website for information deemed trustworthy than he would those who came to OCAnews. I think McLuhan, for one thing, would have conceded that the rhetorical aesthetic of OCAnews is such that most readers are encouraged to ask questions and expect relatively coherent answers, etc.
Also with McLuhan we should keep in mind that he thought the best case scenario in modernity was a situation in which a consumer of media did not have a ‘necessary’ relationship with any media form or entity that controlled media sources and forms, like a totalitarian modern state or overreaching corporate interests. He wanted a diversity of media and folks who were able and willing to walk away from media control mechanisms as needed. This instinct of McLuhan’s is not easily transferred to an Orthodox context, because an Orthodox believer should not walk away from the Church even when the hierarchy of the Church is utterly corrupted and telling lie after lie. McLuhan’s paradigm does not account for that sort of commitment to an institution.
McLuhan would have a field day parsing the lies and contorted media machinations coming out of Englewood and its spawn (Troy, etc.). Given that there are faithful who refuse to leave, I am not sure that McLuhan would have discounted OCAnews as a medium. In fact, some of what is published here that involves analysis of official statements and media constructs coming out of Englewood strikes me as the very sort of media analysis that McLuhan would have done himself.
For the record, for about the last six years of his life, I met once or so a year with, and corresponded with, Walter Ong, S.J., who was one of McLuhan’s disciples. I met Ong when he visited a bookshop I worked at one day. I must say that Ong believed that the internet would provide the nails in the coffin of a coherent and shared epistemology, but at the same time would say things like “well, but if you are going to engage it....” I consider McLuhan and another of his disciples, Neil Postman, essential to engaging modern technocratic issues. Both are often used by folks who present them as taking absolute stances with regard to new media, but with both men, these matters are more complicated than a mere black and white posture.