Recently, Facebook became picture heavy. People have always been able to post photos, but the new ease with which this can be accomplished, and the relative ease with which people can edit images to include text overlay, has resulted in many more status updates published as images rather than plain text. Interestingly, if I post the right kind of picture and topic, I get more “likes” than a plain text status update, even if the update is not original to me. In other words, although the shift to an image rather than text increases overall responsiveness patterns (which are one measure of community in social networks) it is interaction around canned graphics and texts rather than the original production of individual Facebook users. Greater community, yes, but in another way derivative and a simulacra of the creativity of vibrant community.
This is a second and equally important analog of the changes we are seeing in the trans-media culture. Susan Sontag, in On Photography, says, “Feuerbach observes about ‘our era’ that it ‘prefers the image to the thing, the copy to the original, the representation to the reality, appearance to being’—while being aware of doing just that”1 This preference for the image to the thing is illustrated frequently inasmuch as many of our efforts to show how “real” our communities are is by shining the patina of our publicity. Christian communities are more attractive, more inviting, more true, if the images they put on their publicity and marketing tools are of a higher production value. This is related to the phenomenon so many of us now know, where an incredibly “true” or meaningful experience elicits this response, “It was like a scene from a movie.” The image-ing of the event lends it credibility and authenticity.
So Sontag can, later in her book, argue that “the problem with Feuerbach’s contrast of ‘original’ with ‘copy’ is its static definitions of reality and image. It assumes that what is real persists, unchanged and intact, while only images have changed: shored up by the most tenuous claims to credibility, they have somehow become more seductive. But the notions of image and reality are complementary. When the notion of reality changes, so does that of the image, and vice versa. ‘Our era’ does not prefer images to real things out of perversity but partly in response to the ways in which the notion of what is real has been progressively complicated and weakened, one of the early ways being the criticism of reality as façade”2 That, as they say, is interesting.
“There is no more disturbing consequence of the electronic and graphic revolution than this: that the world as given to us through television seems natural, not bizarre.”3
“Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television.”4
Benjamin Kunkel, summarizing an essay by Régis Debray titled in English translation “Socialism: A Life Cycle”: “The ‘basis of symbolic authority’ is transferred from the invisible (God), to the legible (History), and then to the visible (the Spectacle). The ‘status of the individual’ shifts from subject (‘to be commanded’) to citizen (‘to be persuaded’) to consumer (‘to be seduced’). History is never as neat as the schemas laid across it, but most people will recognize that Debray’s three-act drama has accurately captured its drift.”5
1 On Photography, 153.
2 On Photography, 160
3 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves, 79.
4 Ibid. 87.
5 Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee. The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, 33.