[Air-L] A Sunday morning curiosity: Marlon Brando and Medium Theory in 1953?

Charles Ess charles.ess at gmail.com
Sun Aug 25 01:04:21 PDT 2013

Hullo AoIRists,

I recently looked more closely at the Marlon Brando movie, "The Wild One"
(1953) (the source of a long-favored response to the question, "What are you
rebelling against?" (Brando) "What-a-ya got?")

About 20 minutes into the film there is, by my lights, a rather remarkable
exchange between the (remarkably well-behaved) bikers and the ancient
bar-keeper Jimmy.  They are asking "what do you hicks do around here?", and
in the course of his response, Jimmy makes a couple of interesting media
Jimmy: I mind my own business. Listen to the radio ­ uh, music that is. 
News is no good. It excites people.
(biker): Hey Jim ­ what about TV? You like TV?
Jimmy: What?
(biker): That new thing, Jim. Television.
Jimmy: Oh, pictures. No, no pictures. Everything these days is pictures.
Pictures and a lot of noise.  Nobody even knows how to talk.  They just
grunt at each other.

This seems a striking expression - somewhat ironic as it appears within a
film as another "picture" medium - of a kind of "medium panic" (my term, I
think), i.e., in parallel with "moral panic," but in this case the fear that
a new medium will totally displace older ones, including speech itself.

(Parallels with some contemporary critiques and concerns about more recent
media are also nicely obvious.)

At the risk of revealing (yet once again) my vast ignorance -
if only as a historical curiosity - though perhaps now nicely illustrated in
this little example - does anyone have an idea, suggestion, vague hunch,
etc. -
A) where might this "medium panic" have derived from, reflected in the
larger culture, etc.
Especially vis-a-vis
B) any prevailing theories or views on communication and media at the time
of the film that would have either supported or critique Jimmy's concern
about picture media?

Many thanks in advance,
- charles ess

Professor in Media Studies
Department of Media and Communication

Director, Centre for Research on Media Innovations

University of Oslo 
P.O. Box 1093 Blindern
Oslo Norway
email: charles.ess at media.uio.no

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