Skin Divers

Both movie and radio are hot media, whose arrival pepped up everybody to a great degree, giving us the Roaring Twenties. The effect was to provide a massive platform and a mandate for sales promotion as a way of life that ended only with The Death of a Salesman and the advent of TV. These two events did not coincide by accident. TV introduced that “experience in depth” and the “do-it-yourself” pattern of living that has shattered the image of the individualist hard-sell salesman and the docile consumer, just as it has blurred the formerly clear figures of the movies stars. This is not to suggest that Arthur Miller was trying to explain TV to America on the eve of its arrival, though he could as appropriately have titled his play “The Birth of the PR Man.”

. . . With TV, the smarter advertisers have made free with fur and fuzz, and blur and buzz. They have, in a word, taken a skin dive. For that is what the TV viewer is. He is a skin-diver, and no longer likes the garish daylight on hard skinny surfaces, though he must continue to put up with a noisy radio sound track that is painful.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964) p. 232-3

In the intervening years, DIY has taken on a different spin. It hasn’t shattered the image of the salesman so much as it has made us all salesmen. The star system seems relatively intact, however. And silent surfing has taken over as most people I know have shunned the crappy techno sound track that many web designers insist on providing. Since 1964, I suspect we have embraced the power of the mute button. The visionary business is always a hit or miss affair; I’m surprised that anyone would embrace the label (except as a joke). Scratch any visionary and there is a conservative reactionary underneath.