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Richard Grusin – “Mediashock”

Guest Lecture:

Richard Grusin (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)


Frankfurt, 25 June 2012, 6 pm

Campus Westend, IG 1.414

Media today thrive on crisis, shock, and disaster. At the first sign of meteorological turmoil, social unrest, financial turbulence, or natural cataclysm, print, televisual, and networked news media shift into crisis mode, generating on-the-ground reports, live updates, multiple commentaries and breaking news. CNN pioneered the 24-7 crisis mode in global cable news as far back as the 1980s, but the media’s thirst for crisis, its obsession with remediating disaster and premediating shock, has intensified in the 21st century, jump-started by the events of 9/11 but escalating in the subsequent decade. More than a decade after 9/11, much of the networked world remains in an acute state of “mediashock.” In many respects this mediashock follows from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—and more crucially from the overwhelming media aftershocks that rumbled (and continue to rumble) through the global economic and securitization apparatuses and across print, televisual, and networked media. But mediashock preexisted 9/11 and has been intensified, transformed, and reinitiated many times in the 21st century.

This talk offers the concept of “mediashock,” as a way to try to make sense of the mood or atmosphere of shock or crisis which media in the 21st century work simultaneously to create and to contain. “Mediashock” can be understood as a form of what Nigel Thrift has characterized as “non-representational theory,” and as such participates in the critique of representationalism that has intensified in cultural, political, and media theory over the past couple of decades. Throughout the talk I emphasize the affectivity of our media themselves and how this is related to the affectivity of these natural/technical disasters or crises, these geotechnical media events which are produced neither by nature or society or technology but which emerge as complex assemblages, new kinds of events or objects or actants in the world that are related to but not finally reducible to the explosion of new information and media technologies in the past few decades. In this talk I will focus mainly on an exemplary case of the connection between the mediation of disasters or crises and the affectivity of disaster or shock that they produce, modulate, amplify, and shape—the remediation and premediation of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and the still ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daichii nuclear plant.

While “mediashock” names a specific condition of the 21st century, the concept also has its historical antecedents. Despite the intensification of media saturation, the unprecedented distribution of communication media and technical devices, and an everyday mediasphere that is much more complex, multiple, and contradictory than in previous centuries, the concept of “mediashock” itself has a genealogy that goes back at least to the beginning of the 20th century. One of the tasks of this initial foray into the concept of mediashock is to sketch out some pieces of this genealogy, to show how earlier theorists have articulated the way in which new technologies of mediation have entailed and brought about fundamental changes in what Walter Benjamin called the “human sensorium” or what Marshall McLuhan denoted as “sense ratios.”