"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 October 1995. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Media 101


Finals in October? Not for the

Sucksters - we left the hallowed

halls of masturbatory

edification long ago, and never

looked back. Catering our

writing to an irrelevant

audience of one never quite

delivered the meaningful

satisfaction we were hoping for

when we paid the bursar. And

when that singular audience

turned out, more often than not,

to be an underpaid TA instead of

the prof, we couldn't shake the

feeling that we were not so much

learning as getting learned. Put

simply: Just because you're

reading Kafka's The Trial doesn't

mean you should be living it.


[School Crossing]

But as we go about our business

infecting larger and larger

audiences with our disingenuous

denouements, millions around the

world still smolder in the hell

we were lucky to escape. And

it's to the credit of our

readers that they don't allow us

to forget it. Here's a recent

missive from a Mass Media &

Communication student at the

University of New South Wales:


[U of South Wales Insignia]

Dear Duke,                       

Just when you thought it was safe
to go back to school...comes the 
dreaded finals essay questions.  
When it was first announced that 
this semester's topics would     
include questions on the net, I  
had a warm feeling deep down     
inside. This was gonna be a      
piece of cake. Little did I      
realize that it would also       
provide me with endless hours of 
amusement. Check this one out:   

>"The Info. Superhighway is an   
>overhyped media furphy. It is a 
>freeway to a further            
>impersonalised & undemocratic   
>future in which access to       
>information will be limited to  
>a minority. What many believe to
>be a highway of knowledge &     
>understanding may well turn out 
>to be a traffic jam of trivia.  

And this is for final 4th year   
exams at university.             

Because I value your opinions and
because I have my Netscape       
browser set to www.suck.com as a 
home location and enjoy it every 
morning over brekkie and coffee, 
gimme some meat on this please.  
Try as hard as I might I will    
never be as eloquent as yourself 
and because these are the finals 
I shall resist the temptation in 
pointing out to the markers how  
absolutely fucked they are and   
how they've once again managed   
to base their questions on a     
pamphlet they picked up in a     
communist pot smoking lounge.    

You have my full permission to   
weave your magic upon this piece 
of garbage and you are more then 
welcome to use my name. Looking  
forward to it.                   

BTW, this is due Monday of next  

Your Pal,                        


If there's anything we

understand, it's the degree to

which we are slaves to our

readers (especially the ones

who, like Mark-E, set Suck as

their Home Page Location), and

it goes without saying that we

humbly accepted the challenge

(and the deadline!) So, without

further prevarication - here's

the goods.


[Pen and Paper]

"The Info. Superhighway is an    
 overhyped media furphy. It is a 
 freeway to a further            
 impersonalised & undemocratic   
 future in which access to       
 information will be limited to  
 a minority. What many believe to
 be a highway of knowledge &     
 understanding may well turn out 
 to be a traffic jam of trivia.  

Very well-stated, and doubly

valid if one makes the minor

alteration of exchanging the

trite "Info. Superhighway"

AT&Tism for "University of New

South Wales Dept. of Mass Media

& Communication." Casus belli

may be de rigeur in the graduate

lounge, but before we get overly

caught up in the thrill of net

anti-sloganeering, it may serve

us well to examine the tenuous

assumptions upon which the above

statement is based...


To dispose of the weaker

rhetorical flourishes, charges

of the net being

"overhyped...and trivial" are

specious to the extent that

they're relative. As an

exercise, attempt to name any

recent news story that has not

fallen victim to unwarranted

hype. It's an almost impossible

task - the illusion of objective

importance is the central

conceit of any media

institution. An elegant solution

is to sever one's reliance on

traditional news outlets, and

assume the responsibility for

discovering and contextualizing

your own news.


Though few may consciously employ

the net as a means to that end,

we would suggest that, even in

spite of the influx of forces

unwittingly working to impede

such a goal, it has been known

to happen. Let this

unconventional dialog serve as

an object lesson.



And it's ironic that the


misrepresentation and general

misunderstanding of the Internet

by conventional news sources

would be used to indict a

medium which, by and large, is

more capable of mediating itself

than its historical antecedents.

As you hint at in your equivocal

proposal, the chief problem

facing the net may be anything

but a lack of democracy.


But one can not argue that the

net is doomed to be both a

traffic jam of useless

communication and an exclusive

minority forum - these are

mutually exclusive propositions.

For the record, we predict that,

for better or worse, telco

manipulation will result in

greater, if not freer, access to

the net. And as far as economic

marginalization, keep in mind

that the server that's sharing

this little essay question with

the unwashed masses has the same

rough monetary value as the

"home entertainment centers"

found in not a few lower-income

dwellings. (Purchased via

precisely the same method, by

the way: a credit card. But

that's fodder for an entirely

different essay...)



Ultimately, the most interesting

charge in your hypothetical

analysis is the one of

impersonalization. Attempting to

communicate honestly and to form

true communities within a

disconnected, virtual space is a

far from trivial challenge. But

if the net is compared to the

identical set of problems

confronting most people in their

day-to-day social relationships,

themselves already mediated by a

number of intervening

technologies, from the telephone

to the automobile, and set

within the mind-numbing social

"discourse" of broadcast media

"events", we're convinced that

the net only gives us more, not

less, in the way of compensating

mechanisms for the alienation

and self-alienation brought on

by a "modern" society. (Phew!) At

worst, the net is a jury-rigged

solution to issues of "identity"

within the modern, which are as

old as Rousseau's Autobiography;

at best, the net demands new

metaphors and provides new

perspectives on problems which,

after two centuries, are only

beginning to be addressed.


[Crumpled Paper]

And there you have it: a mishmash

of half-interesting

counter-questioning, finessing

and general obfuscation, with a

smattering of invective thrown

in for effect. A perfect latté

read for a bored teaching

assistant, and not dissimilar to

the tactics we once used to keep

our grant money fluid. We

would've done an even better job

if we believed for a second that

we were right!


Get crazy with the cut & paste,

Mark. Don't get a good grade?

Remember: higher learning isn't

about some scorecard at the end

of the game, it's education

through process, and discovery.

And we've helped you do none of


courtesy of the Duke of URL