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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Windows on the World: A Metaphor for Reading

Special thanks to my wife, Colette, without whose brain I would be drooling on myself in the corner.

While exiting the Saturday matinee of Tron: Legacy I looked out the glass doors of the theater and realized that clouds had darkened the day and threatened imminent downpour. I passively plodded behind the herd dreading the gloomy milieu that awaited. In anticipation, and to avoid eye contact, I was marveling at the garish colors and psychedelic patterns of the lobby carpet. The mind melting miasma of flooring had so entranced me that I was barely aware of my hands pushing the lever of the exit. A piercing light popped my textile induced trance inducing an audible "gaaaack," as if I were a vampire about to dissolve in flame.

You would look at the floor too. Trust me.

It was the sun. The tinted windows of the doors had deceived me. Designed so that the contraction of the iris is not too sudden or painful the tinted glass had distorted my perception of reality, but it had also handed me a brilliant metaphor for the media. Granted the media has been, for a long time, referred to as our window on the world, but at that moment I realized that without accurate data on the nature of the window I had no idea about the truth of what I see.

Sometimes it is obvious, the window is stained glass, filled with spiderweb cracks, or the shade is pulled, but more often than not the window is tinted, smudged, warped, or in some cases the window is a wall. You may actually have to search for the window or occasionally take a sledgehammer and make it.

Even when dealing with a window that you frame and glaze yourself you still don't get a clear picture. Every photon of information must pass through the lens of your eye and diffuse through the filter of bias call the brain. Eye witness testimony is notoriously faulty because the brain sees what it wants, and what it misses it fills in with whatever sexist, racist, istist bullshit it wants.

"I didn't see him clearly, but I'm pretty sure he was a Mexican."

Our view of the world is a shadow of a reflected silhouette passing through three windows. The window of the media, the mind's eye, and before the data even makes it to the media it passes through the mental sieve of the author. To truly understand any message a reader must know as much about the speaker, the medium, and himself.

So is there an objective reality? Probably. That is why we should take Windex to our minds, study the glass, and only buy our windows from the most reputable dealers.

Clear your mind

A good reader must know themselves. This requires brutal honesty and acceptance of her innate isms. The reader is racist, ageist sexist, phobic, philic, friendly, fiendish and fickle. More specifically her mind possesses these qualities subliminally. The reader must look inward to gain knowledge of the polarized lenses she wears at all times so that she can sharpen the diffuse glow of information. Don't believe me? Take on of these tests.

I'm pretty sure it also smells like roses

With this newly developed focus the reader must now turn his attention to the speaker. The speaker filters information twice, once through his own pair of D&G sunglasses and again as it exits his mind through a much more deliberately designed cut glass picture window. The reader must backwards engineer these lenses by looking for the signature frequencies created intentionally by the author and subconsciously altered pixels mutated by the radiation of his bias. Simply put, who is this guy, and why is he talking to me?

Finally the reader should be welled versed in the art and craft of the medium, or window itself. What tools did the speaker have at his disposal to create the message? What are the limitation of the medium? Imagine the reader had no knowledge of digital effects. He may assume after seeing Avatar that dragon-riding blue people are real. This is hyperbolic of course, but apply the same standard to a reader that is encountering his hundredth or thousandth iteration of a popular TV trope and he might assume that every middle class white person has a black best friend. Without knowledge of the medium a reader can easily be manipulated by a couple of metaphors or a dash of alliteration.

A "real" piece of tail

Authors are repeatedly asked to bow to the limitations of the medium and the restrictions of the market. The collaborative effort to produce the final product has a profound impact on the message. Whenever possible readers need to study the "making-of" documents for whatever they are reading.

Can a reader sit back and passively enjoy a message? Of course . . . . . . . . NOT. Unless the reader enjoys the constant shock and pain of a flash of realization or revels in the ignorance and fear of never knowing what lies on the side of the door. Then he must rage against the obscuring of the light.

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