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Legal Theory and the Media of Law

Thomas Vesting

As many disciplines in the humanities have experienced a focus on culture’s impact in recent decades, questions surrounding the significance of media such as writing, print and computer networks have become increasingly relevant. This book seeks to demonstrate that a media and cultural theory perspective can also be highly productive for legal theory.
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Chapter 16: Mass media and mass culture

Thomas Vesting


first became prevalent only in the late nineteenth century.15 It is true that certain print media such as broadsheets and copperplate engravings could and did take on a quasi-mass-medial form within the culture of representation of the ancien régime, where high culture also existed alongside more popular or vulgar variants. Yet there is an enormous difference between the cultural upheavals that followed the invention of printing in the early modern age and those that followed the rise of mass media and mass culture. This point has been repeatedly emphasized by Marshall McLuhan, who argues that while print technology served as a catalyst for Western mechanical culture (the machine age), electronic media have forged “environments and cultures antithetical to the mechanical consumer society derived from print.”16 Though the popular press may seem to rest entirely on print technology, it can now no longer be divorced from this post-mechanical context. The rise of penny press newspapers in England and the United States, for example, was linked to the invention of the telegraph; in Germany, too, telegraph networks and the rapid growth of the popular press were closely interrelated phenomena.17 From a historical perspective, then, mass culture should be understood as a kind of “intermediate phase.” Since the late 1800s, mass culture has integrated print culture into new medial constellations, diverse and tension-filled forms of the interweaving of diverse media, from telegraphy and photography to radio, film, and television, until with the rise of the computer, mass culture in turn found...

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