I just finished reading Richard Grusin’s essay “Premediation” (Criticism 46.1 (2004); 17 +) to find that some of the issues that it raises could be of use to my increasingly hard and confusing theorization of the virtual economy in which TV trailers operate.
I’m sure Grusin’s analysis is fleshed out in more detail in his recent book on the same subject, Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11 (Basingstoke: MacMillan, 2010), but the essay is an excellent checkpoint to access the universe of media’s proleptic operationality, or how media and media technology are implicated in a process of anticipative regulation of future events.
Grusin’s argument is that increasingly after September 11, media, especially in their ‘new’ digital incarnations, have developed specific techniques to respond to the widespread desire to “see the future not as it emerges immediately into the present but before it ever happens.” Focusing on news media, Grusin shows how the coverage of the anthrax scare, the sniper killing of 2002 in Washington D.C. and the war in Iraq involved media as prophetic or proleptic voices of events that hadn’t/haven’t happened yet. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, prolepsis is “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.” Thus, prolepsis is not speculation, but a projection of certainty in time, an act of colonization that is also a means of modulation and control. Indeed, Grusin is right to point out that the media’s shifting interest from reporting actual occurences to “premediating what might happen next” in the examples he analyses works within a widespread strategy whose aim is to pre-determine the form that upcoming events will take.
Premediation is therefore first of all a tool of preferred decodification as the scholar explains when he describes the “heterogeneous” “disciplinary formation” that implies state actors, media and criminals in an extended reformulations of the nature and meaning of the events in which they are involved. “At the current historical moment in the United States, acts of terror […] are not only acts of crime or violence but also their remediation*** in televisual media coverage and programming. Domestic terrorists today do not exist without expert analyses by professors of psychology or criminal justice, retired detectives or undercover agents, print and magazine journalists: in addition, terrorists also serve as agents of their own capture and discipline through their premediation both in the media and by police and other law enforcement agencies.”
Although these considerations would make an excellent case for a study of post-9/11 governmentality, I am more interested in a different aspect of premediation which is less epistemologic and more ontologic and which looks at premediation as a strategy of modulating the emergence of events and collective moods accordingly. If the disciplinary aspect of premediation has to do with how media forensics affects our apprehension of events (also through a specially designed aesthetics of headlines, breaking news reports, split-screens etc.), its biopolitical connotations ensure that no matter what incarnations the future eventually take, media publics will have invariably been alerted to them in due course. This ability to keep us stimulated and ready to face the advent of potential changes (even catastrophes, as the vocabulary on emergency has it) is engrained in media’s proleptic approach to the future. By stating that premediation “represents […] a fear of immediacy” (especially in the form this concept took on September 11), Grusin’s argument shifts from studying the interpretive function of premediation to approaching its ontogenetic function, or the way in which “premediation insists on the reality of the premediated future” by laying out a “large number of different possibilities.”
I believe that this is where Grusin’s analysis may be useful for my conceptualization of an economy of virtuality, so I’ll quote him at length. First he envisions the operativity of premediation in terms of a generative system designed to accommodate the presence of variables and the processes of multiplication and environmental adaptation in which they are implicated. “[B]y trying to premediate as many of the possible worlds, or possible paths, as the future could be imagined to take, premediation works something like the logic of designing a video game; it is not necessarily about getting the future right as much as it is about trying to imagine or map out as many possible futures as could plausibly be imagined.” In this sense, premediation entails a proliferation of mediations, rather than their abortion, as common readings of soverign power would have. Then, Grusin distinguishes between premediation and prediction. “Unlike prediction, premediation is not chiefly about getting the future right. Premediation is not like a weather forecast, which aims to predict correctly the weather for tomorrow […]. In fact, it is precisely the proliferation of future scenarios that enables premediation to generate and maintain a low level of anxiety in order to prevent the possibility of a traumatic future.” This is also a very interesting observation, because premediation is seen to operate outside the deterministic dialectics of cause and effect to become its own source of production and self-differentiation.
Finally, Grusin discusses the aesthetics of premediation in terms that underline how formal conventions in-form, and indeed become integral to, the coming into being of future events. “[T]he premediation of war in Iraq on cable news networks […] involved mediating any number of possible futures by means of the very formal features with which the war itself would be mediated (maps, retired generals, split-screen debates, video, etc.). […] The emerging conventions of premediation […] require that the future be premediated in ways that are almost indistinguishable from the way the future will be mediated when it happens.” This last aspect is taken up further ahead in the essay, where the scholar argues for what sounds like a preemptive colonization of the present by media technologies serving premediating functions, such as cellular phones, laptops, digital camera, videophones, MP3 players etc. “Insofar as the future is full of such media technologies, it will be full of remediations of prior media. Premediation is thus connected with the idea of the ubiquity of media and the sense that the world (and its future) has somehow changed.” Ultimately, these technologies are considered instrumental in the institution of a networked grid, or “media regime”, that constrains and modulates our engagement with future events by means of technical and socio-cultural protocols of constrained interactivity and response: “in this sense, premediation seeks to make sure that the future is so fully mediated by new media forms that it is unable to emerge into the present without having already been remediated in the past.”
There is thus also a side issue relating to the preservation of a certain media economy within a changing dispositif of collective persuasion which I would like to take up in a future post. If the goal is to ensure that publics are trained to engage with potentially disrupting events, couldn’t it mean that technological evolution is now being reconceptualized not in terms of innovation as of resilience and adaptability? If premediation entails increased levels of abstraction in terms of knowledge formation and the cultural politics of media, than I guess I will have to address in more detail the obsession with charts, diagrams, maps and topology that characterizes media marketing and promotion.
*** By remediation Grusin means “the double logic according to which media […] refashion prior media forms.” Remediation relates to the formal innovations that recently emerged media (video games, digital photography, the web) adopt in relation of older means of communication and visualization (hollywood cinema, analog photography, print and static media).