Media as Metonym: On E3, Auto Shows, and White Supremacist YouTube

In 2015, John Herrman wrote about celebrities doing an end-run around media, talking directly to the public using platforms like Instagram. Of those apps, Herrman wrote: “they, not the publications that post to them, are the primary filters through which people on the Internet find and consume news and entertainment."

It was the kind of thing that stuck with me because it seemed so true. What was the point of, say, releasing photos or news to media when you had a channel of your own to connect with the public? Something about the world was fundamentally changed.

There’s an obvious economic side to this (sorry) disintermediation. There are also social consequences. Antivaxers and other conspiracy types, not to mention racists and bigots, have all built their own audiences. When anyone can reach the world it turns out that anyone can reach the world.

It’s interesting, though, to watch this phenomenon spread into far more than just the usual back and forth between the famous and media.

Video game show E3 is now going to be missing Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo - which leaves one asking “well, what’s the point?” It of course makes sense. In the attention economy, brands need to draw focus to themselves; those companies can each have their own shows on their own days, which means they’ll get their own news cycle, too.

Similarly, auto show seems to be quickly going the way of the dinosaur, with major manufacturers just skipping them rather than using them to announce their latest models. Instead, we get cringe-inducing one-off events from companies like Volvo who debut their $100k electric SUV as if it were world-changing and not a 4 ton machine equally useful for both carrying and killing people.

Media has always been a vector, a metonym. Think of a protest: the point is that a 100 people gather outside an embassy but that, in the image and video of that action being broadcast to far more people, the message of the protestors spreads. Media has always been the thing that acts as a loudspeaker or magnifying glass, capturing the small or the singular and then sending it out to many.

Entities that are big enough to have their own audiences — everyone from massive companies to world-famous celebrities to popular TikTok influencers to white supremacists — no longer need that metonymic relationship of media to public. They form their own publics. And in that is all the promise and threat of the transition from the broadcast era to the networked one.

Navneet Alang @navalang