Monday, May 28, 2018

From Ernie Kovacs to Neuroscience

Agitprop for the Masses.

A Life in Communication: From Ernie Kovacs to Neuroscience

In thinking about his reasons for discomfort with focusing on Church scandals, the Bear has broadened his inquiry from the content of blogs, tweets, comments and Facebook posts to the nature of what we're doing online. Although our cultural life is lived largely online, we don't think about it much. The internet is just the tool we use, like books or magazines.

But, what if there is something strange about the way we use information now? What if it is not only shaping our way of using information, but how we think, and much more? It sounds far-fetched, but stick around. During this course, the Bear thinks he will be able to make a good case that it is true.

Ernie Kovacs
The Bear's interest in the way we communicate is lifelong. He has not only been a blogger, but a newspaper reporter, a librarian, a radio news director, a conference presenter, a police dispatcher, a columnist, a novelist, and disk jockey. Besides a part-time job as a repo man for Sears (which was not without its own communication challenges) he cannot think of a single job he has ever held that did not revolve around communication.

He was even an Electronic Warfare/Cryptologic Linguist - Arabic (MOS 98G, then). Not only did he listen, but he did radio direction finding. When two teams separated by some distance each got a bearing on the same transmitter, someone could draw two lines on a map and where they intersected... could be an unhappy place.

Talk about the ultimate separation of content from medium and an apt illustration of the danger the later might present! Our version of "the medium is the message" was "break squelch and die."

In this blog, the Bear has played like Ernie Kovacs (surely the earliest influence on his style) played with the relatively new medium of television. Those of a certain age will never forget Die Moritat (the original Mack the Knife, in German). Kovacs was one of the first to see television as something unique, more than a tiny theater screen or radio plays with pictures. Kovacs made the medium the message until his untimely death in 1962 -- two years before Marshall McLuhan came up with the famous phrase.

(There is a direct link from Kovacs to Laugh-in to Sesame Street, with debatable results on the learning ability of children.)

The Bear is the benevolent despot of the Woodlands, which are inhabited by various creatures with names chosen by themselves. He has been kidnapped and has sent messages in Morse Code which were accurately translated by readers. He has appeared in a screen capture from Al Jazeera with Syrian President Assad. He has liveblogged Lent. He has created agitprop for the masses. At various times he has used satire, polemic, essays, poetry, stories, even song lyrics. And who can forget the investigative journalism blockbuster on how Jethro Tull's Aqualung album influenced the future pope?

The point is, these many different forms of communication all have strengths and weaknesses. Their form often determined content, and sometimes vice-versa. Police need radio traffic, and the way they use the radio determines the content. Neither a telegram nor a tweet can carry much of a payload. And yet we think nothing of using tweets in some sort of attempt at public discourse that would have seemed ludicrous to our telegram-sending ancestors. Agitprop (e.g. the Bear's Photoshop pranks) can carry only the simplest message, and is meant to support one's own party. (A theme that will appear again.)

Absurdist segment from David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE
put to unforeseen use re: "rabbits" comment.

But next time, the Bear will tell you about the job that brought everything together for high stakes and added the secret ingredient to this discussion: neuroscience.


  1. More, more, Bear! You are rolling.

  2. That last bit of agitprop - in a word, apophthegmatic. Kudos!


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