History of the Media Mind: Discovering Mediocrity

Even Descartes knew that reading mediocre material and nose picking are mutually exclusive.

Obsession is not just a human trait. There is a basket full of cat toys at my house, but there’s only one that’s used…constantly…obsessively. Information is not an object, but yet it is coveted more than gold. Why? Because to receive it is being empowered and to control it is to have power. Ancient Rome had a newspaper of sorts. It was written on a stone tablet, displayed only about five places around the city, and its contents were often old and dictated directly by Julius Caesar. Not the most reliable news, but people were steaming mad when it went away.

Without Information Human Development Stagnates

Regardless of the integrity of the information, people crave it and depend on it for growth. The exchange of ideas breeds innovation. There was a period in modern human history that brought this fact into a very apparent focus. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was the Early Middle Ages or “The Dark Ages” (476 AD – 1200ish AD). During this time, without the Roman Empire running the show, Europe was a series of kingdoms run by nobles vying for power. Serfs were isolated. Communication, even with the next village, was dangerous because of the lawless declining roads, weather, and fear of the sickness traveling into their area. Information was stifled further by superstitious interpretation and cultural perception. This is a clear example of what happens to when people stop communicating with each other. They start calling original thought and individualistic behavior “Wiiiiiiiitch!”.

Innovation: Millions of Tiny Monks Scribbling Horny Stewardess Novels

In 1830 the course of human literature changed drastically with the invention of the industrial press. Rolling ink plates were able to pump out volumes of pages. Previously printers had to set individual lead letter blocks into precise order and press the ink into the paper with a Guttenberg Press. Prior to that, literature was a monk driven industry rewriting the same page over and over again by hand. Those processes were edits within themselves. Literary works weren’t just thrown at the wall to see if the consumer would buy them. “One Monker” was not a literary term like the publishing industry has the term “Limited Release” now. Penny presses poured into the market. It gave both great and horrible writers a forum. As the talent gap widened, people were able to identify the worst writers but began to become comfortable with the idea of mediocrity.

Is More Better?

Some television has arguably gotten better and better since the invention of it. There are shows that fill multiple episodes per season with better graphics and story lines than movies that were released only 10 years prior. Without the movies the shows wouldn’t exist. Yet, the demand for content on the television has increased the number of channels and widened the gap of the quality of the content. Without citing specific examples, one can find a well crafted story with interesting characters on one station and flip to the next just to find an unscripted show full of untalented “regular” people with mental issues babbling themselves into a state of minutia. These shows (yes, even reality shows) are written by someone. This gap can be laid on the shoulders of the industrial press.

Demand Promotes Mediocrity

As is the nature of the perpetually struggling publishing industry, if an author’s manuscript gets through the gelatinous editorial filter of the publisher and turns out to be marginally popular (“marginally” as in covering the margins of production and distribution) the publisher will ask for another book. This doesn’t mean that the book was mediocre. It can mean a few things:

  • The story spoke to the popular culture of the time.
  • The book was a compelling and well crafted use of the language.
  • The book gave pertinent and up to date information.
  • The author was well known for some reason or another.

Notice that only one of those categories requires talent and training. Demand dictates the rest and not surprisingly drives the majority of what is published. That’s fine. At least they’re publishing something good, even if it is only 5% of what’s published on a annual basis. Humans from the beginning of time to about 900 BCE only got .00000001% representation, i.e., Homer. Homer may not have been the best humanity had to offer at the time. Perhaps just the loudest. Imagine if the very loud Bill O’Reilly, best selling author and popular commentator, was the only thing left of our society for future generations with which to appraise us. Regardless of your politics, his books fulfill all three of the above criteria with the exception of being well written.

In Search of the New Homer

New writing, such as blogs, are free (great price), but you have to be tolerant of around a 50% stink ratio. It’s a social agreement. The blogger doesn’t make a profit so they shouldn’t be expected to put a ton of thought into it. On the other hand, they should put enough thought to keep people engaged. At some point people will buy something that the blogger put a lot of thought into. That’s the theory. Regardless, now that words are losing their value, what value is there in talent? Traveling story tellers in Homer’s time would get tips. Sometimes they would have the opportunity to present in front of the king and either get paid handsomely or get executed in an amusing manner (so that the whole thing wasn’t a total loss). Bloggers get paid by banner ads and clicks. Sometimes they get book deals. Luckily for them, a mediocre book only leads to no-more-books. Though, I imagine the internet would not be adverse to an amusing execution here and there.

The media mind isn’t as fickle as people like to portray. Everyone enjoys consuming less-than-stellar entertainment because they’re usually not willing to do it themselves. People who are willing to at least give it a try should be commended. They generally get better over time. But really, what does that mean? Does the consumer want the thing that they’re consuming to get better? Sometimes, as a writer, the reader has found you because your train wreck appeals to them. I believe that even though reality, true crime, and real stories are popular, it is the lofty fantasy that people want. That’s what survives. Exactly what Homer, Shakespeare, and all of the authors of the King Arthur story provide. An escape. Couple that with great writing and the media mind will not be able to ignore it.

Written by Jeremy Cairns


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