One of the unprecedented characteristics of our time is the ubiquity of the mass media. Except on AM radio, the ideological thrust of the content may not be as uniform as the party line under Stalin and, to date, the endlessly repeated messages aren’t backed up by deportations and executions. But no totalitarian ever disposed of the technical ability to fill the air with images and anthems on the current scale. Like a metronome, the cerebral electronic pacemaker ensures that everybody keeps to the beat, and archivists of the Objective Spirit will be able to date stray fragments of video by their references to the obsession of the day—O.J., Monica, Princess Di, Laci Peterson—much as paleontologists identify strata by the occurrence of successive species of graptolites.
The prosthetic group mind is doubtlessly very helpful to the powers that be, but the resulting unification of the whole nation into an enormous high school ruled by a single clique presents a perpetual challenge to human vanity. After all, almost everybody is a loser in a country that can be approximately but aptly described as a very big strip mall. Hence the prominence of identification as a defense mechanism against the threat of realistic self-knowledge. If we couldn’t identify with the cool kids or imagine that we may suddenly become one of them, the intolerable recognition would set off a spasm of murderous narcissistic rage. In fact, from time to time it does.