Jay Rosen, in his “The People Formerly Known as the Audience“, states that the audience is now taking control of the media. That they are taking ownership of something controlled for too long by the established media. I am somewhat skeptical of such a situation being considered revolutionary. It is a revolution, don’t get me wrong, but it is not something so outstanding, so unfathomable, or without a past example.
Revolutions begin modestly and blossom into a full-blown institution. Take for instance the Gutenberg Press. The printing press revolutionized the printed word. In the past it was difficult for the common person to even be in the same vicinity as the document (or slab) containing printed (or brushed on or chisled) word. What evolved was the ability to print words in a short period of time and with little effort. What was effected by it was expansive and limitless. A system of education began to evolve and people learned to read. News and information travelled to areas beyond the outer bounds to which they were limited before. Yet the first and most greatly involved was religion. Religion was the basis of the printed word and vice versa. Knowledge was religion to most that could read. Saint Patrick was cannonized not for driving out snakes from Ireland but for saving an entire language and the religion that came with it–Christianity.
Centuries ago, monks in Ireland had, before the printing press was invented, dedicated their lives to painstakingly copying the Bible along with beautiful illuminations. These could take up to 20 years to finish and were only available to the few individuals who were lucky enough to possess that one book. The first Gutenberg bible took about 4 or 5 years and future editions took only months. Information was beginning to become available to the public finally. This lead to one of the greatest revolutions in history and is what took Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance–the Enlightenment. As congregations and clergy became more familiar with the Bible they became incensed with the fact that the Holy Roman Church was feeding them lies about what the Bible actually said and misinterpreting the verses. Martin Luther took the first bold step when he posted his 95 Theses on the doors of the Church. Christianity, after almost a millineum of solidarity and control, broke into different sects–mainly the Calvanists and the Lutherans who formed the Protestant Reformation movement.
What makes the Reformation so important and relevant to the article by Jay Rosen is that it is an example of the people taking control of their religion (and in those days that meant much more than what that would imply today). They became the people formally known as the congregation. What is most interesting to note as an example from history is that the situation resolved itself in a way that is common to all revolutions–from chaos comes order and from order comes chaos. It was inevitable that similar restrictive, secretive, and ignorant religions would form from the previous Church. In fact the once single-headed Church became a multi-headed Hydra.
What we learn here is that though the people will gain some freedom and greater insight than they previously had, that door will eventually be shut again. Revolutions meant to free the people have historically lead to their eventual enslavement as well–think of Iran’s rebellion against the excesses of the Shah, the Russian and Chinese rebellions against their royal manipulators, and the French Revolution which rid the country of an uncaring King yet marked the beginning of the Reign of Terror where tens of thousands were guillotined in a matter of months.
You may be saying, “What does that have to do with media?” ALOT. Those who want to free us and open our eyes eventually become too big for their britches and become greedy and drunk with the power they have gained. The revolution continues yet we need to see where it goes and how those controlling the new media react to their new-found power.