This article is a reprint of The Hive’s Oct. 4, 2018 blog post.
“In a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank that high on the truth meter … information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So, all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it’s putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.” —Obama
President Obama made this statement in May 2010, during one of his most tumultuous years in office— healthcare reform, financial reform, the BP oil spill … the list continues. The proliferation of media content, voices, and audiences (specifically in relationship to news content) continue to grow and reach into every aspect of our lives through 21st century media tools and channels. The discourse on media and its impact on society continue to call for scrutiny, and, as Obama said, it continues to put “new pressure on our country and on our democracy.”
Using Obama as a prism, this essay examines the culture of American mass media, examining the fidelity of news content amongst the ever-growing, ever-fragmenting, modern media landscape. It investigates the audience’s active engagement in the construction of their relationship to reality, the flawed nature of newsmakers and their perceptions of the world, and offers an alternative narrative approach to the construction of the self.
This essay was approached through the convention of narrative and visual communication. It visualizes narrative as a mechanism of our individual cognition and cultural engagement, allowing for personal and collective understanding of the world around us. The tools of visual communication design are used to reframe the discussion of today’s 24/7 media environment.
The hope of this piece is three-fold: (1) By using President Obama as an example, I wish to examine and illuminate the role of contemporary media in our lives, (2) reframe the discourse of media and the active nature of the audience through the use of visual communication design, to pose new questions and answers and (3) present an alternative means of finding our sense of self within the deluge of media today.
You can find the full text of “Portraits Of Obama: Media, Fidelity, and the 44th President” in the American Institute of Design’s design educators journal, Dialectic, which can also be purchased on Amazon.
Collie is the creative director at The Hive and HMC’s clinical professor of visual communication.