2. Hack the Media.
A few weeks ago I received a copy of media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s new graphic novel from DC/Vertigo. A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division. In the sci-fi thriller a team of professional video gamers lives immersed in a media world filled with intrigue. Using this narrative, Rushkoff constructs a parable exploring the future of a hyper-connected existence. In an interview with Shaun Manning, Rushkoff explains the origins of his book,
“Most simply, ‘A.D.D.’ asks, ‘what if Attention Deficit Disorder were not a bug but a feature?’ What if the things that we’re seeing emerge from our very media-connected kids, what if these weren’t illnesses or pathologies but rather adaptations? What if the abilities gained by the Newtype children of manga and anime, what if some of the things we’re considering disorders are actually adaptations or reactions to the media environment in which kids are living?” Rushkoff told CBR. “We sort of asked the question, and then the story grew out of that. Ok, if ADD is a feature and not a bug, it means that someone made it happen, someone put it there. Who would do that, and why? I built a world around that ‘what if’ and wanted to get to the place of asking, ‘what would constitute resistance in a world where corporations are trying to program us into submission?’”
I first hoped to review Rushkoff’s book in the context of the real-world equivalent: Breitbart was the prototype of the ADD-as-New-Media-adaptation phenomenon. The man who lived bombarded by endless tweets, phone calls, videos, and news stories wrote about his attention deficit disorder and the way his temperament fit with the virtual environment of an interlinked world wide web.
Breitbart’s abilities as New Media entrepreneur and effective activist stemmed from harnessing his ADD to develop unusual insights into the future of media and technology. Breitbart could make connections before others. Ancient societies called such people prophets. See this anecdote from one of my favorite writers, The Weekly Standard’s Jonathan V. Last:
Breitbart had a peripatetic mind—lots of ideas, most of them big, some of them very, very good. (I remember one conversation with him, about ten years ago, where he spun out, at length, a concept for a micro-blogging service that I told him was crazy. In nearly every particular, he conceived of Twitter four years before Twitter was invented.)
Knowing how our media system functions, understanding it as a programmed virtual reality made by people, Breitbart could hack it to further his patriotic purposes. He knew which buttons to push, whom to charm, whom to provoke, and how to play the role of showman.
In Rushkoff’s graphic novel the Breitbart/ADD way of looking at the world has a fictional equivalent. The protagonists’ eyes go a hazy blue and they “dekh” new understandings of the biases programmed into the media system.
Breitbart taught us how to see the world this way. The mainstream media is not an unbeatable foe, but a pathetic, predictable creature one can manipulate at will. A recent example, almost performed as tribute in Breitbart’s memory: Rush Limbaugh seizing the media narrative in the contraceptive debate.