Thursday, May 5, 2011

What is the allure

What is it about being on the radio, or on TV or in the movies which is so attractive? Is it simply being the focal point of attention? I don't think so. I have been pondering this point - I was at work and someone spoke over the loudspeaker. And everyone who knew the guy said "hey, that's ______! I know him!"

Someone else gave a lecture. Individuals came up afterwards and wanted to associate with the speaker. There is something about the referred or connected power which makes the allure of the media more than just the momentary "being famous."

So here I am, a student of the media, a student of culture, and I have this simple question and no answer. It seems so basic: what motivates us to want to be near, on or somehow connected to the media? After the requisite 3 minutes of thinking about while I did something else, the answer came to me. And when I tell you, you'll say "of course" as if this is the most obvious thing in the world. And that's the trick. It IS the most obvious thing in the world but you didn't tell me the answer any earlier, so shame on you.

The answer, not surprisingly, is power itself. Think about it. Let's say you are in a dialogue with someone else. There is (in a perfect world) 1 speaker and 1 listener. Each can easily balance the roles within the dialogue. Fair enough. Now turn the one-to-one into a group of five people. Each can talk to any or all the others. Things start to get a bit loud but there is still some exchange. Maybe, the group switches to email to reduce noise, but all 5 can email to any or all the others. The inbox begins to swell. Now make it a group of 10. Lots of mail flying around. messages are getting lost.

So the group has to choose -- either they can all give up their individual rights to speak whenever and moderate themselves into a perfectly even distribution of speaking so that all have to listen the same amount, or they have to find some way to sift through all the noise and find what content has real value to the group. In order not to have to listen to the random side messages that user A spreads during his turn, groups will often look for a moderator who can choose the messages which are useful. He shapes the conversation and injects his own message content in their at his whim. He has the power of access to all the others' ears. To get a message to the group requires acknowledging him as the gatekeeper.

Now think about an audience of tens, or hundreds or even thousands. It isn't just about publicizing a message to that group but about having access to or affiliation with the gate keeper. Being on the radio is cool, but being friends with the DJ is cooler because it means to have either influence on, or can reap the benefits of that person's power.

So it isn't about the 15 minutes of fame but about the connection to people who are getting a full hour.

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