What is the Message?: It’s Not Very Obvious // Connor Redmond

In what way can I possibly sum up this year? The topics we have covered have varied in extreme levels and seem to have nothing in common. How could I possibly compare the Columbine massacre to “The Walking Dead”, a tv series based on the zombie apocalypse? What similarities are there between the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the “mass production”, if you will, of animals that makes up factory farming? And don’t get me started on the seemingly nonexistent connection between the video “This is Water” and the issues of sustainability. When we initially think about it, the obvious answer to these questions is that there are no real connections.

However, Marshall McLuhan, author of The Medium is the Massage, would have a big issue with my last sentence. Is McLuhan right to have an issue with the idea that these things harbor no connections? How about we find out.

Let us focus on the word OBVIOUS for a minute. Something that is obvious is “easy to see or notice,” or “easy for the mind to understand or recognize,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. When we look back at the conclusion that “there are no real connections,” how can we possibly assert that this is somehow obvious? Ultimately, we are more than capable of coming to quick conclusions, and we often end up doing this. We do this because it is human nature. This is the exact concern of Marshall McLuhan. He was concerned with the fact that we, too often, focus on the obvious, leading us to miss the “below the surface” connections and consequences between not-so-obvious topics (McLuhan).

Why don’t we take a look at the course material for the past two quarters and see if we can find cases in which we focus on the obvious. My gut instinct tells me this will not be hard.

For example, the issue of sustainability is one that we focused on heavily during CTW 1. As far as sustainability goes, many people tend to only notice the obvious. What I mean by this is that think that by recycling, they are being sustainable. When we dig below the surface we find that sustainability encompasses so much more than simply recycling. In our debate on sustainability, we showed ways in which Santa Clara University is sustainable by looking past the obvious. We shared the example of the Forge garden, which is a source of healthy, organic food that is grown on campus. This focus on sustainability from a standpoint concerning food is not a popular one, yet is extremely important.

Then  we look at the video “This is Water”, by David Foster Wallace. When we look at this video without much thought, we might be prone to say something along the lines of, “This doesn’t apply to me, it’s just a motivational speech for graduating college kids,” or “Wallace just points out the bad things in life.” But once again, if we delve below the surface, we see that his video is so much more than motivating college students. He advocates awareness (Wallace). He says that every single day, we have the ability to make a conscious choice (Wallace). Rather than thinking about “me”, we can think and pay attention to those around us consider that they be in a worse situation than your own.

When we follow McLuhan’s advice and try to avoid focusing on the obvious, we can build connections. When we focus on the underlying message of “This is Water” we see that it is ultimately about awareness and choice. Going off of this, we can see connections to the issue of sustainability. Sustainability is not an entity, but, rather, a choice. People have to be aware and make a conscious choice to be sustainable. They need to be aware of the impact that their every day choices have on the issue of sustainability. It is not just recycling that makes someone sustainable, but, rather, all of the choices they make on a day to day basis, whether it be the food they eat, the car they drive, or the choice of grass for their yards.

We can apply this same format to the life of the infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the violence in factory farming. When we look at factory farming, we might think that it’s obvious that the factory workers are to blame. After all, they are the ones who commit the violent acts towards animals on a day to day basis. No one is forcing them to be cruel to the animals. As Katie Hagan states in the essay Wake up and Smell the Bacon: The Nightmare of Pig Slaughter and You The Serial Killer, “The high-intensity, stressful work environment that factory farm employees toil in each day perpetuates the violence towards the animals,” as well as, “workers use violence as an outlet for all of the stress that builds up in a high-stress environment, like a slaughterhouse” (Hagan 6). It is easy to blame the workers for the violence that’s committed against the animals in a factory farm. However, when we look at this issue more carefully, we see that the factory farm workers are actually products of their environment. We also learned that “factory workers can separate themselves enough that they can justify hurting animals, based on the idea that they are vastly superior,” (Dulchinos 9). In addition, we learned that the violence that is seen in factory farms is a product of consumer food choices.

Similarly, we have the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 men over the span of more than a decade. Many would be quick to label him a psychopath, or something similar, as this is the obvious explanation. However, as we discussed in our group essay, we have more in common with Jeffrey Dahmer than we’d care to believe. Jeffrey Dahmer idolized his victims much in the same way that we idolize our meat. We hang meat in a visually appealing way in our delis, we have meat freezers specifically for the purpose of storing our prized possession, and we even go so far as to die our meat red because we as humans have a natural blood lust. So when we try to take the easy way out and blame the factory workers for the animal cruelty, or write Jeffrey Dahmer off as a psychopath, we must ask ourselves if we are taking a surface-level approach by merely stating the obvious while overlooking the bigger picture. When we take a more open minded approach while looking at the violence that occurs in factory farms, we must look in the mirror and understand that we are to blame for a lot of it. Not only are we to blame, but we also embrace it, because we all have a little Jeffrey Dahmer in us.

Now is the time where I might go into the subliminal connections between the Columbine massacre and the hit TV series “The Walking Dead”, but I think I’ll let you figure that one out for yourself, as I have a feeling you might need some practice.

The best way to summarize this class is through Marshall McLuhan’s ideas on how we constantly stick to the obvious while refraining from digging deeper. In every work we’ve gone over this has been a prevalent issue, and if we are to begin to change this, we’ll need a little more practice. Unless we begin to shift our mentality, then we as a people are doomed.

Go through my post again and notice the words in which I bolded and italicized:

if you think the Massage Is OBVIOUS we ultimately are doomed.

Works Cited

Hagan, Katie, Zoe Dulchinos, and CTW Class. “Wake Up and Smell the Bacon: The Nightmare of Pig Slaughter and You the Serial Killer.” Tense Present. N.p., 02 June 2015. Web. 11 June 2015.

“Santa Clara University.” – Sustainability at SCU -The Forge Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.

“Santa Clara University.” – Sustainability at SCU -The Forge Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015.

Wallace, David Foster. “This Is Water.” Vimeo. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015

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