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New Literary History 33.4 (2002) 761-780

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Complicity and Collusion in the Mediation of Everyday Life*

Roger Silverstone

On the 2nd we were at the Wenglers in the afternoon. It once again made an enormous impression on me when they put on the wireless and leapt from London to Rome, from Rome to Moscow etc. The concepts of time and space are annihilated. One must become a mystic. For me radio destroys every form of religion and at the same time gives rise to religion. Gives rise to it twice over: a) because such a miracle exists, b) because the human intellect invests, explains, makes use of it. But this same human intellect puts up with the Hitler government. 1

This essay investigates everyday life as a moral and a social space. It presumes that it is in the everyday, and above all in the detail of the relationships that are made with others and which constitute everyday life's possibility, that our common humanity is created and sustained. It also presumes that it is through the actions and the interactions that make up the continuities of daily experience that an ethics of care and responsibility is, or is not, enabled. I argue that no ethics of, and from, the everyday is conceivable without communication, and that all communication involves mediation, mediation as a transformative process in which the meaningfulness and value of things are constructed.

The modern world has witnessed, and in significant degrees has been defined by, a progressive technological intrusion into the conduct of everyday life, of which the most recent and arguably the most significant manifestations have been our media technologies. These technologies, principally broadcast technologies in the twentieth century, have become increasingly central to the ways in which individuals manage their everyday lives: central in their capacity, in broadcast schedules and the consistencies of genre, to create a framework for the ordering of the [End Page 761] everyday, and central too in their capacity to provide the symbolic resources and tools for making sense of the complexities of the everyday.

These technologically enabled processes of communication and meaning construction are processes of mediation. 2 Mediation, in the sense in which I am using the term, describes the fundamentally, but unevenly, dialectical process in which institutionalized media of communication (the press, broadcast radio and television, and increasingly the World Wide Web) are involved in the general circulation of symbols in social life. That circulation no longer requires face-to-face communication, though it does not exclude it.

Mediation is dialectical because while it is perfectly possible to privilege those mass media as defining and perhaps even determining social meanings, such privileging would miss the continuous and often creative engagement that listeners and viewers have with the products of mass communication. And it is uneven, precisely because the power to work with, or against, the dominant or deeply entrenched meanings that the media provide is unevenly distributed across and within societies.

Mediation, in this sense of the term, is both technological and social. It is also increasingly pervasive, as social actors become progressively dependent on the supply of public meanings and accounts of the world in attempting to make sense of their own. As such, mediation has significant consequences for the way in which the world appears in and to everyday life, and as such this mediated appearance in turn provides a framework for the definition and conduct of our relationships to the other, and especially the distant other—the other who only appears to us within the media.

I intend to argue that there are profound moral and ethical issues to be addressed in confronting the mediation of everyday life. I also intend to argue that insofar as the persisting representational characteristics of contemporary media, above all in our media's representation of the other, remain unchallenged—as for the most part they are—then those who receive and accept them are neither mere prisoners of a dominant ideology nor innocents in a world of false consciousness; rather they are willing participants, that is, complicit...


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