The Homo Mediaticus and the Paralysis of Critical Thought

Massimo Ragnedda, The Homo Mediaticus and the Paralysis of Critical Thought, in

After the end of Nazism and fascism and with the fall of the Soviet block, our society has been partly founded on the myth of the freedom of the press and the freedom of thought. Fear of an Orwellian society causes us to reject and oppose any imposition that comes from high up. The human loves to feel free to think, to act with full autonomy, completely emancipated from external influences. Paradoxically, now, never has the homologation in behaviour and in the ideas of individuals been so apparent, manifesting in the ways in which we dress, eat, and in our desires and aspiration, but, above all, there is homologation in the way we think. The totalitarian regimes could not impose thoughts by force. In contrast, such regimes are sources of critical thought. In an obvious absence freedom of expression, the human reacts, almost instinctively, with cognitive force, developing “critical thought” to reject the “System”; in other words, facing a coercively created homologation, the human answers with nonconformist critical thought. Paradoxically, today, it seems that with the freedom to express one’s own opinions, the human does not develop critical thought. There exists an “abstract force” which imposes its own laws and advances its supremacy on politics: the market. This has happened primarily because of what the Frankfurt scholars call “the culture industry”; a critical analysis of the economic and cultural context in which we live shows the risks derived from a serialized production of cultural products and commercialisation of art. As Debord shows, the risk of a paralysis of critical thought comes from the “society of the spectacle.” This article is divided into three parts. The first part will examine the illusion of pluralism, where in spite of a plurality of media, the ideas diffused are similar; they are different only in appearance and not in reality.

Furthermore, this part will investigate which “eyeglasses” we use in understanding, deciphering, and elaborating the input that comes from the media system and the real world.3 Autonomy of thought is in trouble and the ability to think critically has atrophied as a result of the media system. As Postman outlines “when a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk: culture-death is a clear possibility”4. Since the advent of television there has evolved a new subject: homo videns.5 This new subject is progressively losing its critical abilities. The second part of this article analyzes the role of the advertising world, which imposes the immediate attainment of happiness as a categorical imperative of our age. The mass media, part involuntarily and part intentionally, has become an agent reinforcing the status quo, creating 

privileges and advantages for the power elite. The last paragraph of the article will try to show the irrationality of our system, using the Adorno and Horkheimer analysis which states that, at the apex of its development, the rationalism of Enlightenment is inverted and becomes irrationality. See more here


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