The Pump Trope: Media Mash-Ups and the Downfall of Civil Engagement

RADio568 will be featuring Ted Talks Mash-Ups by the students of the Self, Media, and Society class at JJAY College–Media Studies.  Broadcast: February 24 – 26 @ 11am

The following is an editorial on the mash-up idea resonating in today’s mediated society.


This is not news. Trump is a political blowhard — there are many examples of self-proclaiming, self-aggrandizing, over-sized leaders of men throughout history — Idi Amin Dada – Benito Mussolini – heck, I am sure Genghis Khan was a blowhard–it comes with the job of the tyrant. Trump has established his Presidential candidacy not on being outspoken, but on being outrageous. Of all his stances–he has no consistent policy stance –it is the “I am great” trope that fills his speeches and pumps his well of support. Why?

On the other hand–Pope Francis is a Christian thinker—examples include Ghandi and King. In this world values have validity and longevity; ideas can be ranked as not only effective but moral, and human interaction is complex. Both Trump and Francis address the issue of fear of the other and the world listens. Both swim in a mass media sea. But Francis and the other Republican Presidential candidates dog paddle while Trump’s “no holds barred” media-style cuts through the waves. Why is that? Analysis must begin with descriptions of the post-Nine-Eleven Western media milieu in which very different “voices” get mashed and what emerges is a new way of seeing the world and each other.

There is something about the Trump style blowhard that resonates in this “mashed-up” world. In part, his rhetoric is a product of an Islamic extremism that stirs a rawness of feeling–of fear of other. This is not new. Humans have always been afraid of each other.   Rather, Isis and Trump engage a mashed media style of communication. South Carolina—and probably Nevada–Republican voters “Liked” Trump because he resonates within the 21st century, media-formed American milieu. Trump is a natural shape-shifter, constantly melding forms based on the news-entertainment cycle. Trump is a talented equal-opportunity user of images and generalities that reflect the social values created by corporate, American, news and entertainment media. And the goal is not winning anything or espousing social ideals; all is for the purpose of getting more media coverage. Trump is especially well-suited for this; he naturally fills this cultural field of power, probably, a result of his upbringing.   Pierre Bourdieu might describe Trump as holding the habitus of this media-distracted society. He seems so real because in this context he is what some of us see as real and important, and it is why certain Americans feel comfortable with the Trump Mash-Up.

In their day, Mussolini and Hitler held the top-dog media position but not as mashers of ideas; rather, the 1930s news media–film and newspapers–were felt and received as tools of the powerful, those who formed mass opinion. We no longer see ourselves as unthinking “massesTrump-mussolini5” readily controlled by the messages of the powerful. We are now free thinking individuals able to decide for ourselves. Well-heeled slogans of American Democracy re-assert that we know what we want and make up our own minds on the issues. At the same time, we are distracted by a capitalist, corporate media that mashes news and entertainment in a 24-hour cycle in which all ideas are equal–equal and therefore meaningless—but fun.

Media mashing happens when complex social ideas and cultural feelings are summarized in mediated brevity–catch-phrases, verbal explosions, mis-statements, Tweets, re-Tweets, emoticons, emojis, memes, photo-bombing, selfies, YouTube videos of cats or men drinking helium infused beer, and Photoshopped images [such as the one I am using here**]. All emphasize feeling and the simple idea that fun must be served and brevity is everything: ‘Hey, we get it. Nuff said. Period. Let’s get on with it.’   Within this context, developing C. W. Mills complex “social imagination” becomes silly, a waste of time. So we text and catch-up on our Facebook pages and Instagram, and Pintrest, and we are pulled to this other new app and what is trending … and … . Within this milieu, easy-to feel-surface similarities crush complex distinctions.

The mashing of media product is evident in the most recent “spat” between Francis and Trump—between the Catholic Pope and builder of casinos. Following the Pontiff’s critique of Trump’s wall-building politics, the U.S. Presidential front-runner pointed out that the Pope will need him when Isis attacks the Vatican, mashing terrorist imagery with Trump-as-power imagery and maybe Trump-as-builder-of-big-buildings imagery.* Taking a different tack, the candidate’s supporters criticized the Pope for living behind the Vatican City wall, and call for Francis to “take down that wall” mashing Regan rhetoric on the Berlin Wall with Francis’s critique–mashing different senses of “walls” separating groups of people.   Mashing dissimilar ideas is a quality of 21st Century media with its emphasis on the individual, on feelings, on the need for “Likes” rather than difficulties and difficulties of F2F talk and thoughtful analysis. Within this milieu all ideas are simplified, condensed, emotionalized and easily melded into sameness. As a distracted public scans through the posts and trends and pushes and tweets, buzzes and pop-ups, all demanding immediate attention, Trump flourishes.

Some may be thinking that this cannot be true because the demographics of those that support Trump are not the quick-thumbed, iPhone-mad Millennials but the uneducated and old. It may be, though, that it is those groups who are going to be most influenced by the media mash-up that is our time. Millennials have grown up in this mass media atmosphere and are capable of seeing their time in more complex ways , can distinguish the nuances of media products. Many Millennials have gone to college and have discussed media influences in Sociology 101. But we all use smart devices and are “hooked into” this media landscape, so that some Americans are unconsciously—hegemonically–sutured into feel-good, mashed-up media messages.

Trump’s success is a result of a postmodern world. Ideas and feelings are mashed into a souffle of equal un-importance. In such a world feelings rule and in such a mashable universe the imagination can create fantastic combinations that in other times would seem bizarre. For Republican supporters, Trump seems to be saying what they are feeling. They are right.

* “In Defense of Trump, Some Point to Vatican Walls”

**See “Mussolini was Donald Trumps Grandfather”

Other images of Trump as Mussolini:

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