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weblog archives
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Monday, September 05, 2005
Thomas de Zengotita's book Mediated starts with a cracking anecdote, a story from the author's days at a high pressure, high emotion New York drama school. One day, the class is limbering up, all leotards, sixties haircuts and minds full of The Method, when a teacher bursts in and breathlessly declares that the president has been shot, then exits rapidly. The students look at one another, confused, until someone realises that this must be a cue for an improv. Various levels of dismay, outrage and despair are then exhibited, drawn from the very depths of their freshly scraped psyches. Yet after a few pained minutes of emotional intensity, someone else comes by and confirms that, yes, the president really has been shot. All at once, the facade crumbles, and the acting students are torn between two states - real emotion, or fake yet somehow more authentic emotion. De Zengotita tells this story to illustrate what he believes is a crucial disparity between contemporary culture and that of perhaps 50 or 60 years ago: we want to emote and associate with everything, and in doing so we have lost any perspective over what is real and what is not.

If only the rest of the book built more effectively on this atmospheric beginning. But it's hamstrung by a very awkward style - short, chatty sentences and over-familiar observations that gradually leech away at the reader's empathy with the premise. It's not that the premise is flawed - but as de Zengotita himself notes, what he's saying is ultimately rather obvious, making the book the cultural version of the experiment that can't be observed as the act of observation will change the parameters and therefore results. De Zengotita is best when he's describing the way America's current president has shaped himself, almost sub-consciously, to fit the ideals and aspirations of his core voters, a self-mediated person who, paradoxically, portrays himself as naive and homey, untainted by the complexities of modern media.

Interestingly, the book has a different subtitle to the US edition, where it's flagged as 'How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It', whereas in the UK, it's just 'How the Media Shape Your World', with a changing plural on 'Shape(s)'. Reviewing the book in the Observer, Peter Preston observes that 'no generation before had such a bank of mediated memory to draw on', and that today's nascent generations are simply ticking a plethora of boxes in the way they shape their identities, spreading allegiances and passions thinly, creating a general feeling of apathy rather than burning intensity. Somewhere along the line 'they way you live in it' was deemed an unnecessary tautological addition, implying that it is the shape of the world that matters most, and everything else is conditioned by that perception.


*

Elsewhere. All is not so rosy at Bo01, the sustainable Swedish eco-village on the old docks at Malmo - also home to Calatrava's Turning Torso (official site here). The town is the location of the giant Kockums shipyard, which recently built the Swedish navy's Stealth Ships, the Visby class Corvette (an idea that hasn't really been widely taken up by any other seapowers: only wealthy individuals who like the aesthetic: see the Wallypower 118). Bo01 was facilitated by failing industry, and the city was once home to a large Saab factory, which is now being magicked into a new city quarter (seen here with the giant Kockums crane to the east).

Attending any kind of trade show, event, launch or whatnot usually results in a bucketful of freebies (or 'swag') - the entertainment and media industries seem especially guilty of doling out all manner of non-monetary incentives (with the Oscars traditionally representing the state of the art). But what kind of riches would one find at a trade show devoted to promotional items? You clearly need no more encouragement to visit the National Incentive Show, with exhibitors like The Coaster Company, ExpressPendrives.co.uk, Laser Crystal Ltd and the Snazzybags company all champing at the bit to give you superfluous stuff.

Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise is a weblog with a classical music focus / CaveHack, a freeware retro game / on architectural plagiarism, specifically the Freedom Tower's ongoing issues. See also these posts collected together by the Annotated Times, which tracks blog postings about NY Times articles (which promptly expire like goldfish out of water) / Unfortunate Books and Records / random scans, including this disturbing-looking book, The Shelter Trap / science fiction book cover pool / sleazy reads / yet more flickr browsing, this time London urban archaeology: Rabbit phone point.

That Brutal Joint, an architecture weblog / eMercedesBenz is an unofficial weblog / 'mini' cars / Antique Toy Vehicles, just one section of the vast Adamstown Antiques Gallery / a powerful piece of writing: Shadows everywhere / make virtual creatures with Modulobe (via hippoblog) / the end of the original RAND Corporation HQ. The company itself is still going strong / the Mythologist, the life of Henry X / the musical autobiography of Henry Cowell / Media Mediators, experimentations in interface design / overhead on the Today program in a discussion about China's thus-far responsible approach to climate change: 'they're still trying to heat their houses, whereas we're heating our gardens and the Americans are air-conditioning their gardens.' And it's true!

Apologies for the intermittent postings. We're working away at the next print edition - when we're not travelling - so time is quite tight right now.