Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#4 Bilwet 1 Jan 1991

Normal Media

The word that made a man out of ape and killed the ape in the process keeps man an animal the way we like to see him - William Burroughs.


Normale Media -

In the long run, everything becomes interesting; that is the fate of the normal media. The one remaining Mayan text might perhaps reveal the most profound secrets, or it may be an advertising flyer for a department store. This doesn't make it any less fascinating. What characterizes normal media is the fact that they aren’t seen as an expression of culture in the times in which they appear. Only when they appear as a collection, accompanied by a chronology, or an object of study for the science of ‘normal history’, do they acquire that something extra which the conversation at the next table or the letter to an unknown recipient automatically possess. Only such a theft can stimulate the imagination into practicing hermeneutics of the everyday. Such media are taken for granted to such an extent when they're released into people’s everyday lives that they allow no meta-level. They’re much too close to their own space-time to allow for the distance necessary for the anthropological gaze or simple, banal pleasure to come into being. They’re like the bone from which the entire skeleton of a dinosaur can be reconstructed, or the sequence which makes possible the reconstruction of an entire fictional film. As long as they remain submerged in the whole, they possess no information- value at all. But when regarded as a paradigmatic splinter, they reveal the entire landscape of which they were a part. Unzeit- gemaBe normal media are only conceivable as something unthinkable.

Normal media require no advertising. They are handed out, unasked for, in numbers which preclude avoidance. The waste has already occurred. Direct mail has achieved its aim if three per cent of the recipients react. Normal media companies abuse the legal obligation to receive mail. We find descriptions of runaway cats, announcements of upcoming parties at the neighbours', Scientology folders about the most recent Hubbard, an invitation to the festive re-ope- ning of Brinkman's butcher shop, furniture catalogues, neat, respectable student looking for a room, a course in salsa dancing, the supermarket’s weekly specials, various door-to-door magazines, a book club catalogue, the takeaway Chinese and Italian restaurant menus, the neighbouhood newspaper, personal letters addressed to the Occupants of this Building, political flyers and cultural teasers. The same category lives oni n the current of actual news i n t h e form of lonely hearts advertisements, family announcements and other ads. Even the White and Yellow Pages can expect to come into contact with the average citizen on a regular basis.

The unasked-for media take no notice of the differentiated behaviour of contemporary consumers, who put together their own, personalized media package. The classic model of ‘one-way traffic’, in which recipient B simply had to accept message from source A, has been shoved aside as something undemocratic. The adage: Choose your own message has turned reception into an act of will.

Media for the millions plough right across this conscious selection and are in a position of such sovereignty that they are uninterested in market penetration and mental incorporation. They feel most at home stuck in between old newspapers, strewn along the street, on top of the garbage can, in the gutter.

The design of normal media requires a certain period of incubation before it can be recognized as such. Their layout doesn’t plunder and imitate the work of the daring avant-garde, nor does it play on feelings of nostalgia. They unintentionally succeed in causing a short circuit in the field between folk culture and mass culture.

Their problem is how to be noticed without becoming interesting. They must never just be consigned at a glance to the category of messages aimed at only one segment of the market They blend the amateurish bungling of the lyrics ofsongs for jubilees and weddings with the professional sheen of the game show emcee and revue performer. Desk-top publishing, handycamcorders and autozoom see to it that both levels miss being attained by a hair’s breadth. A well groomed normality which offers everyone a place, and off of which all disdain bounces harmlessly. Run-of-the-mill, everyday media can be forged, but never parodied. Letters from the Municipal Street Maintenance Authorities or local businesses are a standard part of the arsenal with which the spaB- guerillas (leisure guerillas) play, but an ironic mail order catalogue has yet to be made.

As regards content, one need expect nothing new of the normal media. They've made an editorial policy of McLuhan’s ingenious remark that the content of media consists of the preceding media. They are printed store windows, illustrated radio programs, myths adapted for the screen, digitized town criers, telephonic neighbours’ gossip. While sovereign media still achieve alienating effects by broadcasting films over the radio or filming books (page by page), by visualising radio dramas or word-processing them in cyberspace, watching the radio on television is a common, everyday thing. Just consider the talk show, quiz show or news. The tolerant media are not conservative by definition simply because they elaborate on that which preceded them. They don't long for a return to God, country and family, but, rather, offer a new security. A flyer for horse sausage doesn't provoke any aggression on the part of a vegetarian. Racist propaganda, on the other hand, reveals what it is immediately, by showing off its pre-wwu typography and Nazi colour palette. The normal media only irritate with their sheer, overwhelming numbers and the certainty that the stream will never dry up.

Reigning images can be scratched, stilled, and sampled, but never 'camped'. The distribution of normal media takes place beyond the reach of kitsch. Banality can only be produced using pictures which have seen their day. Thus, no one has yet spotted an ironic use of the lap top computer or other mobile immaterials. But the capacity for such use of the solid goods which gave the consumer society its material charm is more than ample. Normal media are always one step ahead of fans of banality. Their emptiness is so interwoven with their own times, that even the artistic avant-garde which strives for durability has missed them radically. Only as gesunkenes Kulturgut do the maxima normalia become the bearers of a discourse, and thus suitable for artistic recycling.

translation jim Boekbinder