Media and Politics

Bookworm writes about an ‘art installation’ at the (taxpayer-funded) Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Here’s how the museum describes the exhibition:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s conceptual virtual reality installation CARNE y ARENA (Virtually present, Physically invisible) explores the human condition of immigrants and refugees. Based on true accounts, the superficial lines between subject and bystander are blurred and bound together, allowing individuals to walk in a vast space and thoroughly live a fragment of the refugees’ personal journeys. An immersive installation that reunites frequent collaborators Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki alongside producer Mary Parent and ILMxLAB, CARNE y ARENA is centered around a 6 ½-minute virtual reality sequence for one person that employs state-of-the-art immersive technology to create a multi-narrative light space with human characters.

Here’s Bookworm:

That’s a pretty bland, abstract description. A pro-illegal immigration Proggie friend of mine, though, went and was blown away by the wonder of it all. I’ve restated his glowing description in my own less glowing words, but the substance of what he said is still there.

The exhibition is meant to have you experience through virtual reality (it’s hot and sandy in the exhibition) what a Honduran, El Salvadoran, Merxican or Guatemalan experiences as he or she journeys north through the Sonoran desert to enter America illegally through Arizona. After you’ve signed a waiver, lest the good folks at LACMA make you uncomfortable, and taken off your shoes, your adventure begins.

Thrill to the experience of having border guards surround you with helicopters and vans to arrest you. Then, having gotten yourself (as promised) hot and covered with sand, you get to see videos of real illegal aliens reenacting their experiences for the camera. (I assume it’s some form of PTSD psychotherapy for illegal aliens.)

(Much more at the Bookworm link.)  This exhibit is very much in the style of the ‘tunnels of oppression’ which have become popular at America’s colleges and universities.

I recently ran across a passage from a pioneering media expert, writing in the 1920s, who remarked that social change could never be achieved merely via the written word; most people were inherently lazy (he argued) and were unlikely to pick up a book if it went against their existing views, or even pay enough attention to a leaflet for it have have real impact. So, oratory–the spoken word–was much more effective. BUT, there was a new technology which had still greater advantages:

The picture in all its forms up to the film has greater possibilities. Here a man needs to use his brains even less; it suffices to look, or at most to read extremely brief texts, and thus many will more readily accept a pictorial presentation than read an article of any length. The picture brings them in a much briefer time, I might almost say at one stroke, the enlightenment which they obtain from written matter only after arduous reading.

If movies have great potential in forming/changing opinions…and they do…then most likely an immersive experience such as the one at LACMA will be even more powerful.


The media expert cited above was named Hitler, and he demonstrated very well the degree to which political and social movements can be enabled by the astute use of media, and, in particular, new/emerging media. I am not, of course,  painting the LACMA people responsible for this exhibit as Nazis; I am asserting that media of this sort have a lot of power to bypass rational thought and lead the audience in the way to which the designer desires that they shall go.  More on this theme at my post here, which contrasts the graphical/sensorial means of presenting information with the text-based approach, as developed in the work of Neal Stephenson.  He includes an example of something which is very much like a ‘tunnel of oppression’, but is meant to drive the audience to a positive rather than a negative impression.

5 thoughts on “Media and Politics”

  1. From a comment at Bookworm’s post:

    “I was a docent at LACMA for 15 years, about 10 years ago, just as I started rising in the heirachy of the docent council, I knew my time there was limited. They had an exhibit that extolled all kinds of evil – like showing a video of a Buddhist monk immolating himself, as well as images of the first female Palestinian suicide bomber and her victim, both girls of 18-19. This put them on equal ground. I complained because we were told we were going to share this exhibit with High School students. A very high official from the education dept castigated me: we must be confrontational, should we not talk about racism? My response: you are equating racism in America to one human using her body to kill another?? Yeah, that was the end of my ‘career’ in the council. I stayed on as a docent for more years, simply because I really enjoyed the variety of students that came from all over LA. But things got worse, like they have in our culture in general, and I left.”

    …but also, a more hopeful note:

    “…best response to that awful exhibit was this: a group came from Newport Beach, a very rich area and they were disgusted by all of it and wondered how this could be considered are. (another docent told me, I never set foot in the exhibit.)”

  2. Also: I have no problem at all with artworks, music, novels, etc, used to present the negative impact of policies, even when they are policies I strongly favor. For example, I’m very fond of Tom Russell’s song ‘California Snow’, about a Border Patrol agent and the people he encounters:

    …great song!

    But I have a big problem with taxpayer-funded institutions using immersive media to present one side of a story without providing alternative views and/or factual information for analysis and reflection.

  3. So I am sure that the immersive experience at the museum is oh so thrilling and moving to those experiencing it. So what about the experiences of those citizens who have had … oh, I don’t know – children or kin killed in traffic accidents – wherein it is the fault of illegal and uninsured drivers? Or – how about the immersive experience of those who have had their identity stolen … by an illegal kyping their social security number? Or … living in a blue-collar neighborhood, and having it turn to kak because of the house next door turned into a slum because of forty illegals living in a two-room one-bathroom house?
    Oh, yeah – I wanna see the museum do that experience. But I am not gonna hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

  4. Yeah, I’m waiting for the immersing experience that has the soldiers at Valley Forge talking about, if they get through this mess alive, how they are going to make sure that their “government” never has the power to do certain things ever again…

    Not holding my breath….

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